Entrepreneur, author and philanthropist Chris Gardner was a special guest at the recently concluded JVS Gala Honoring Marshall Geller. Gardner is the author of best-selling autobiography "The Pursuit of Happyness," which was adapted into the film featuring Will Smith. Along his journey from homeless single parent to millionaire stockbroker, Gardner caught a break from former Bear Sterns Senior Managing Director Marshall Geller who helped the then homeless Gardner get a position at Bear Sterns.
Twenty-five years - and quite a lot of success - later, the two men met up again at the SLS Hotel where Gardner presented his long-time friend with the JVS Lifetime Achievement Award.
Before the ceremony, Gardner spent a few minutes chatting with JVSWorks. Here's a few selections from the interview.
JVSWorks: When you were asked to attend this event and give Marshall his award, what went through your mind?
Chris Gardner: "Done. Honored." The truth of the matter is when this became something that I was aware of, I had just come off one trip where I had done 10 countries, four hemispheres and three continents in 18 days, but when they said it was for Marshall? "Done. Honored to be here."
JVSWorks: Given your respective schedules and the fact that you are based in Chicago and Marshall is in Los Angeles, do the two of you get a chance to stay in touch?
Chris Gardner: Yes. My whole life has changed dramatically over the last five to six years, and when something like this happens, it instantly changes everything. You have to make some decisions about opportunities you may or may not want to pursue. I wouldn’t do anything without talking to Marshall first.
JVSWorks: What sort of advice or counsel does he give you?
Chris Gardner: This whole idea of trying to create a brand and how you do it, I learned from Marshall that you say no a lot. People are going to come to you with things that are not consistent with what you’re about. By saying no, you get to define what you are about. Marshall must be doing something right. You know how you’re doing something right? You get your picture on a box of Cheerios. All those nos, that’s how you get your picture on a box of Cheerios.
JVSWorks: We get to know your children through the autobiography. How are they doing?
Chris Gardner: (laughs) I don't know! Ask me how my grandbaby’s doing. She’s doing FINE! Oh yeah she is 5 years old, and she is ringing and swinging and making merry like Christmas. Children don’t understand that once the first grandchild comes, your child becomes obsolete. People ask me about my children all the time. I don’t know! They’re old news. The grandbaby comes, and that is news. My granddaughter just lost her front tooth. That’s news. She just started kindergarten. That’s news.
JVSWorks: Were you familiar with the work of JVS before the Marshall tribute dinner?
y. There’s a JVS in every major city in this country in some form or other, and thank God there is. There are a number of initiatives that JVS supports that I think are crucial. They reach out to veterans which is crucial to me personally since I'm a veteran myself.
We just celebrated Veteran’s Day, whatever that means. Everybody talks about, "support our troops." What about when they come home? 30% of all the homeless people in this country are veterans. Suicides among returning Army and Marine Corps reservists is the highest it has been in the history of this country. Nobody talks about that.
Everybody says, "Oh thank you for your service." That’s something you say to a waiter in a restaurant when you know you’re going to stiff them on the tip. The work that JVS does with veterans is crucial.