Chris Gardner: I love SA!

By Drum Digital
10 November 2010

BEING granted 20 minutes with one of America’s most respected millionaires is a daunting prospect. This is a man who climbed his way up from nowhere, who speaks in public to audiences of thousands, has a razor-sharp brain and a reputation as formidable as his empire.

So we don’t know what to expect when we meet Chris Gardner at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Rosebank, Joburg. He’s due to speak at investment company Citadel’s awards evening after our interview and he’s likely to be distracted and in a hurry, we reason – but we couldn’t have been more wrong.Chris (56) offers us a friendly smile and handshake after greeting and grinning at everyone in the lobby. “I love it here,” he says in his broad American accent. “I love watching my children fall in love with the country. I always try to come here with one of my kids.”

Chris is a dad of two, granddad of one, motivational speaker, author, philanthropist and millionaire founder and CEO of Gardner Rich LLC, a stockbroking firm with offices in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. He’s also the man who shot to fame after the movie The Pursuit of Happyness was made about his life.

Based on Chris’ first book and starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden, it chronicled the remarkable tale of how Chris lived on the streets with his son, Christopher, and fought his way out of the gutter through sheer guts and determination.

As anyone who has seen the movie will know, fatherhood is more important to Chris than anything else. And changing the mindset of fathers who don’t take parenting seriously is one of the messages he tries to spread.

“I made the decision to be there for my kids a long time ago,” he tells us, ordering tea with honey and lemon. “I told myself that if I had to sleep on a bathroom floor with my son strapped to my back as a grown man, I would. Breaking the cycle of men who aren’t there for their kids is the most important thing I can do.”

His son, now 29, doesn’t remember the year he spent homeless with his dad. “We were on Oprah and he said, ‘All I can remember is every time I looked up, my dad was there’.”

Chris takes a sip of his tea. “There are some multimillion dollar-earning parents who give their kids everything but their time,” he says. “Be there. Ain’t no substitute for time.” CHRIS has lost count of the number of times he’s come to Mzansi. “What I do know is when I come through the airport now they look at me and say, ‘Go ahead’,” he jokes.

But he will never forget his first visit to the country. He was invited by Zwelinzima Vavi, the Cosatu general secretary, who had suggested he observe the 2004 general elections. “I told him I’d come if I could meet Nelson Mandela,” he recalls.

Read the full article in DRUM of 18 November 2010

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