24 Aug

If you believe that ideas and attitudes can change lives, then this interview is for you. My guest, Chris Gardner, is the subject of The Pursuit of Happyness, a #1 New York Times bestseller and an Oscar-nominated film starring Will Smith. After reading these questions and answers, I hope you feel brave enough to continue all the happiness and success that Chris has achieved.

Chris biodata

Born into a childhood of poverty and violence, Chris overcame daunting odds to become a global stockbroker and founder of Gardner Rich, a Chicago brokerage firm. In the interview, we focus on what it means to be “world-class” and draw on principles from Chris’ second book, Start Where You Are: Life Lessons from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.

If you want to be a world leader in sales, business or anything you love, read on. Or, if you just want to know why I spell happiness with a “y,” we’ll talk about that, too.

Jayna Cooke: How would you answer your two favourite research questions today: What do you do and how do you do it?

Chris Gardner: I’m trying to create the next Chris Gardner. I have been doing this for the past 10 years and have spoken in over 80 countries.

I’ve talked to a lot of young people, especially here in America. I let them know that the people they are competing with for opportunities live everywhere. They are probably not in your city, state or country, they are hungry and grinding! Some of the things that many of us take for granted, these people don’t.

You want to be young and have fun, that’s great. But while you are having fun, someone you can’t see is studying and preparing. You might end up working for that person.

Nobody wants to hear that! But I try to tell young people: You want to be the one signing the front of the check, not the back.

Jayna: Anyone who has seen The Pursuit of Happyness remembers your competition to outdo the other 19 interns. Finally, why did you win?

Chris: I’ve made the second most important decision I’ve ever made in my life. I wanted to become the world’s best in everything I did. World-class. I just had to find one thing that turned me on as much as the music. That was my first ambition, but I realized I wasn’t going to be the next Miles Davis. But I was determined to be the world’s best at something, and when I first walked into a Wall Street trading room, I knew that was it. Phones were ringing, bodies were flying around, and people were shouting orders. It was like reading sheet music.

That decision to be world-class and find the one thing that excites me did it. I couldn’t lose after that.

Now that doesn’t mean I knew I was going to win at that moment. There are several scenes in the film where the sales manager seems to be pushing me. Move the car, give me a doughnut, that’s all. His name is Marshall and he is one of my best friends today. “I always knew you were the guy,” he told me, “but I just had to make sure you knew it. I just went to his 80th birthday party. I don’t do anything major without calling Marshall first.

Where Chris spend most of their time?

Jayna: What are you focusing your time and energy on right now?

Chris: I spend a lot of time and effort talking today. But with any engagement I do, the first question is, what else could I do with these people? What else? It could be an economic opportunity, but more importantly, is it something I’m passionate about?

For example, I was just down in Bonita Springs, Florida with the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, and it’s something I feel strongly about. There are 36 million people in America who cannot read! That sounds like a third-world number. 36 million. Just imagine the economic impact closing this number could have on the country.

You know, that’s probably why we’re in the current political situation. People couldn’t read the ballot!

But seriously, take it a step further. Think of someone’s family: a father or mother who cannot read. This uncertainty must negatively affect family life.

Jayna: What does it mean to be “world-class” in sales or something?

Chris: First we need a definition. Imagine a conversation where someone asks, “Who is the best in the industry? Someone has to say your name if you’re world-class. Now, the same conversation, the same question: If no one says your name, you have work to do. If no one says your name and you don’t care, get out of the store. You will never be good at it. The ultimate confirmation is when someone who doesn’t like you keeps saying your name in response to this question.

Jayna: In the movie, the restrictions seemed to give you a secret advantage—you had less time to work, so you work smarter. What other ways do you use time to your advantage?

Chris: I have to keep it tight all the time. I am very, very time conscious. I always wear two watches. People ask me, “Why do you do this?” Because I was late once and it cost me a huge opportunity.

The day I started my brokerage business turned out to be October 19, 1987: Black Monday. The market fell by 508 points. It was not a good time to raise capital. I showed up to the prospect meeting 20 minutes late. He said, “If I can’t expect you to be on time, I can’t expect you to do things on time with my money.”

I wore two watches for 30 years. I know I get aggressive early.

Jayna: In Start Where You Are, you say that in cases where the sellers are even, whoever shows that they care the most wins. How did you show potential customers that you care about them the most?

Chris: In businesses where everyone is good, there might be a slight difference in price. It’s about who has the best relationships. Remember the three R’s: reading, writing and arithmetic. Now there are three new R’s: reputation, rap and Rolodex.

You can have the best idea, but if they don’t believe you, you can’t communicate it, and nobody cares about what you have, nothing will happen. You can build relationships now that you won’t sell to until the future.

In my business, trying to sell to large financial institutions, you can make 100 phone calls and hear “no” 99 times. But when you get it, yeah, that’s all you need. You make 99 calls and you make that last call, it might get you one per cent.

Jayna: In Start Where You Are, you talk about the rule, “Stay open, but don’t cross it.” What is it that we need to change in the rut? What variables to focus on?

Chris: The first question is why are you in a rut? Are you doing something just to make money, or are you doing something because you really care?

Doing something for money is too hard! If you’re not excited, you may need to do something else. I was talking to a young man the other day and I told him you have to ask yourself two questions. While you’re brushing your teeth, ask yourself: If you could do anything in the world tomorrow morning, what would it be? Second, what did you do today to make tomorrow possible? You have

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