Chris Gardner, whose life and career as a stockbroker was the basis for the film The Pursuit of Happyness, says the key to success lies in choosing work that you love.
"Do something that you love," Gardner told eFinancialCareers when asked for his most important piece of advice about building a Wall Street career. "Find something you love, and be bold enough to go do it. If you don't love it, don't do it."
That devotion is what will sustain you through the tough times, he explained. "There are some sharp elbows in this business. So you need a thick skin."
eFinancialCareers interviewed Gardner at a reception preceding the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association annual tribute dinner and foundations benefit on May 8, where he was the guest of honor.
Gardner's 2006 autobiography chronicled his struggle to become a stock broker against odds that often seemed overwhelming. The movie adaptation of the book won critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination for star Will Smith, who portrayed Gardner.
After succeeding as a trainee with Dean Witter Reynolds, and later becoming a top-producing broker at Bear Stearns, in 1987 Gardner founded Gardner Rich & Co., an institutional brokerage that executes trades for public pension funds and other clients. He remains the owner and chief executive of the Chicago-based firm.
In his keynote remarks, Gardner related that soon after he joined Bear Stearns, an executive told him the firm wasn't built by MBAs, but by "PSDs" - meaning people who were "poor, smart, with a deep desire to become wealthy." His response: "I have found the Promised Land!"
SIFMA honored Gardner for his involvement in a variety of organizations that aid the homeless, strengthen families and support education. The benefit dinner drew about 500 people and raised some $1 million for two foundations promoting financial literacy that now operate under the SIFMA umbrella.