How did I meet my friend and mentor Christopher Gardner? By complete fate.
A Taiwanese family owns the Whitehall Hotel which is on the north side of Bloomingdales. I helped them restructure their security. Several years back I saw green Bentley parked in front of the hotel with the license plate that said “Pursuit”. When I asked the door guys whose car that was they explained it belongs to Christopher Gardner who does not stay at the hotel but uses the hotel for parking while shopping at Bloomingdale’s. They told me if I could stand out in the cold long enough and wait for him he’s a pretty cool guy. They said he smokes a cigar before he gets in the car. I waited for him and he did exactly that. I introduced myself in that became the beginning of our friendship. He open the trunk and gave me a signed copy of pursuit of happiness. About two years later I was riding the train completely depressed after discovering a manager of mine collecting and another current employee hiding in the mail so I would not know. I like to ride the train to clear my head at times. It was a weekend in downtown was dead. I got off the train and wandered around a bit. As I walked past a one-story building I noticed Through the Windows several posters of the movie Pursuit of Happyness (one of my all time favorite movies). I put my head against the tinted glass and peeked in. I saw what looked like an executive desk made out of an aluminum airplane wing. I did not see any people. I decided to circle the building to see if I could figure out what kind of business that was. I thought perhaps it was the movie production company. As I rounded the back corner, there he was, Christopher Gardner himself. He was in a light gray sweatsuit with one leg up on a short wall, resting his elbow on it and holding a cigarette. It was clear he had just had a run and now he was smoking which I thought ironic. I walked up and said oh, hello mr. Gardner oh, do you remember me. He acknowledged that he remembered me but he could not place from where. I reminded him of our meeting outside the Whitehall Hotel in 15 degree weather a couple of years earlier. We had a great conversation and he asked me what I was doing downtown on a Sunday? I explained I had some things on my mind and I ride the train to clear my head. Every now and then I pop off the train. I come downtown to dream. I said to mr. Gardner, I know why you are downtown in this Sunday. he said, oh you do, then my puzzle. I said, yes. You’re obviously working. I asked you a couple years back outside the hotel, are you still working? You said, “I’m working everyday like a dog”. I told him I have quoted that phrase several times myself in the last 2 years. I also went on to tell him how I was under unbearable stress, much like he was back then. I told them about the employees who tried to cheat me, I know my voice crackled and my eyes started to fill. He is a great listener, he listens intently. He asked me if I had a card. I said sure and handed him one. He said, Angelo Canchola born in June. In my nervousness I had handed him my driver’s license not my business card. Lol. I told him, I’m sorry I must be nervous in the presence of greatness. He chucked and I exchanged my driver’s license for one of my business cards. He said, Angelo here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to have my secretary Tina call you soon. You and I are going to sit down over coffee soon. Before I parted, he left me with some words of encouragement. “Angelo, about your employees, remember this. These types of people are always going to be the people who are signing the back of the check. Angelo, you are the guy who signs the front of the check. You are always going to be that guy, you remember that”. He was very sincere yet firm, saying it with authority as if he just guaranteed my success. I shook his hand, I got a bit misty-eyed again inlight of the heartfelt talk and we parted ways. He went I side and I hopped back on the train much happier than when I got off. It was light I got charged by a lightening bolt. It took a month or two to get that phone call from Tina. I think I even had to reach out first. The one-story building was his investment firm Gardner & Rich. One of their biggest clients at that point in time was the city of Chicago employee retirement fund. I was invited back to the building by Tina to meet Mr. Gardner again? I was offered a seat in some chairs near the door. About five minutes later I heard someone yelling my name, Angelo! Angelo!? Angelo!?, are you out there!? I shouted back across the big office! “Yes!, YESSS Mr. Gardner, Angelo is out here!! He laughed loud enough to hear it. I also made a couple employees in cubicles laugh too. I heard him yell further, “then come on back here Angelo!” I walk my way through the office to his office in the back. I was now standing in the room with the silver airplane wing desk, his desk. He stood and came around it to shake my hand. Tina’s desk is in the same room if to the side. She smiled and nodded. Mr Gardiner walk me back out of his office to a long conference table in the center of the building nearing the cubicles. He sat at the narrow end of the table and put an ash tree in front of him. He then tilted his head sideways and lit a cigarette. I remember thinking it was so weird seeing someone smoke in a downtown building but I also remember how awesome it was! I remember the statement it made in my mind. This was his building oh, he could do whatever he wants in his building! How cool is that!? We were only a couple minutes into our conversation when another person came through the outside door and said, “Chris I just need a minute. I just want to thank you.” Chris said, things are going good? the gentleman replied, “good no. Things are going absolutely great! I have finally made it! I am moving to Bali the cars worship there today. thank you for all the great advice and friendship the last couple years!” The gentleman was out the door a minute or two later after shaking hands with Chris who pulled him in for a hug and strong pat on the back. I was like Wow! Please let this be me in a couple years!Chris and I continued our discussion. He gave me much good advice and I acted on most of it. He said I needed to be going door-to-door and I did just that. He helped me get the ball rolling. He said the next time he saw me I should be the lighter you should be able to see through the soles of my shoes from all the door to door. Anyways, this is the beginning of our friendship heard I was later invited to his residence which takes up more than one floor in the Trump building. There are only a couple patios if you look at the Trump building. One of them belongs to mr. Gardner, the outside patio can hold up to 350 people. He actually held a charity event for Mercy Home for Boys and Girls on that patio. He also opened his open allowing public to roam, pretty cool I thought. I noticed his residence had plenty of expensive furniture. Plenty of expensive artwork. On one particular display case, I noticed a piece that he probably considers most valuable, a rubics cube. Anyways, this is the story how he became my friend and mentor. Chris has a cameo in the movie towards the very end. In the photo below you will see he passes by Will Smith and his son. Another fun fact. Will Smiths son in the movie is his real son. I honor our friendship by intentionally misspelling happyness. Last I will leave you with one of Chris’s quotes in the movie. “If you want something, go get it. Period.” ~ Christopher Gardner.