Keynote Speaker - Chris GardnerFew stories are as inspiring and moving as motivational speaker Christopher Gardner's. Surmounting acute obstacles throughout his life, Christopher Gardner is an avid professional speaker, sharing with his audiences the keys to self-empowerment, and the message of beating the odds and breaking cycles. Gardner is also a passionate philanthropist committed to many charitable organizations.The amazing story of Gardner’s life was published as an autobiography, The Pursuit of Happyness, (Amistad/Harper Collins) in May 2006, and became a New York Times and Washington Post #1 bestseller. In paperback, the book spent over twenty weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and has been translated into fourteen languages. Gardner was also the inspiration for the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness,” released by Columbia Pictures in December 2006. The movie is the #2 all-time domestic grossing drama. Will Smith starred as Gardner and received Academy Award, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations for his performance. Gardner was an associate producer on the film.Gardner’s second book, Start Where You Are: Life Lessons in Getting From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be was published in 2009.Born February 9, 1954 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Christopher Paul Gardner’s childhood was marked by poverty, domestic violence, alcoholism, sexual abuse and family illiteracy. Gardner published his autobiography out of a desire to shed light on these universal issues and show they do not have to define you. Gardner never knew his father, and lived with his beloved mother, Bettye Jean Triplett (nee Gardner), when not in foster homes. Gardner is indebted to Bettye Jean for his success as she provided him with strong “spiritual genetics” and taught him that in spite of where he came from, he could chart another path and attain whatever goals he set for himself.Gardner joined the Navy out of high school and then moved to San Francisco where he worked as a medical research associate and for a scientific medical supply distributor. In 1981, as a new father to son Christopher Gardner Jr., he was determined to find a career that would be both lucrative and fulfilling. Fascinated by finance, but without connections, an MBA or even a college degree, Gardner applied for training programs at brokerages, willing to live on next to nothing while he learned a new trade. Chris Jr.‘s mother left and Gardner, despite his circumstances, fought to keep his son because, as he says, “I made up my mind as a young kid that when I had children they were going to know who their father is, and that he isn’t going anywhere.”
Gardner earned a spot in the Dean Witter Reynolds training program but became homeless when he could not make ends meet on his meager trainee salary. Today, Gardner is involved with homelessness initiatives assisting families to stay intact, and assisting homeless men and women who are employed but still cannot get by. It is estimated that 12% of the homeless population in the United States is employed; in some communities that estimate is as high as 30%.Gardner worked at Bear Stearns & Co from 1983-1987 where he became a top earner. In 1987 he founded the brokerage firm Gardner Rich in Chicago from his home with just $10,000. Gardner Rich LLC is an institutional brokerage firm specializing in the execution of debt and equity products transactions for some of the nation’s largest institutions, public pension plans and unions.Chris Gardner’s aim, through his speaking engagements and media projects, is to help others achieve their full potential. His practical guidance and inspirational story have made him a frequent guest on CNN, CNBC and the Fox News Channel. He has been featured on “The CBS Evening News,” “20/20,” “Oprah,” “Today Show,” “The View,” “Entertainment Tonight,” as well as in People, USA Today, Associated Press, New York Times, Fortune, Entrepreneur, Jet, Reader’s Digest, Trader Monthly, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Post and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, amongst others.