World’s richest man, Carlos Slim, a born wheeler-dealer
by Noel Randewich
Wednesday, first showed a talent for business as a 10-year-old kid when
he filled his pockets with pesos selling drinks and snacks to his
Lifestyle | Mexico
As a youngster he also kept accounting ledgers of what he earned and
spent and bought a government savings bond from which he learned
valuable lessons about compound interest.
More than half a century later Slim, 70, has amassed a fortune of
$53.5 billion, beating Microsoft founder Bill Gates to top the list of
the world’s richest people, according to a new ranking published by
Forbes magazine (www.forbes.com).
His far-flung business empire includes some of Mexico’s best-known
department stores, its biggest telecoms operator, hotels, restaurants,
oil drilling, building firms and Inbursa bank (GFINBURO.MX)
— making it hard to go a day in Mexico without paying him some money.
Outside Mexico Slim has holdings in such prestigious groups as
retailer Saks (SKS.N)
and New York Times Co (NYT.N).
His defining foray occurred in 1990 when he and his partners bought
creaking state telephone company Telmex (TELMEXL.MX)
for $1.7 billion. Turning it into a cash-making jewel, he spun off
America Movil (AMXL.MX)
and expanded it through acquisitions to become the world’s No. 4
While critics accuse him of using a monopoly to build his fortune,
Slim has a simple philosophy about making money.
“Wealth is like an orchard,” he told Reuters in 2007. “With the
orchard, what you have to do is make it grow, reinvest to make it
bigger, or diversify into other areas.”
Cigar-smoking Slim’s trademark is his “Midas” touch, acquiring
struggling firms and turning them into cash cows.
In 2008, he bought a minority stake in the New York Times as the
stock tanked. Now, warrants he received for lending the publisher $250
million could net him more than $80 million and could lead to a 16
percent stake in the company for Slim, who says he has no interest in
becoming a U.S. media baron.
But Slim’s newspaper investment has ruffled feathers in the New York
media establishment. As investors speculated last week that he could
move to acquire more of the Times, media mogul Rupert Murdoch said he
doubted the controlling family would relinquish control to an outsider,
especially from abroad.
Slim learned his first business lessons from his father, Julian Slim
Haddad, a Lebanese immigrant who came to Mexico in the early 1900s,
opened the “Star of the Orient” general store and bought properties
cheap during the Mexican Revolution.
In 1987, when stocks nosedived during one of Mexico’s many crises,
Slim saw opportunities where others feared disaster, picking up
low-priced shares and selling when they recovered.
“We know that crises are always temporary and there is no evil that
lasts 100 years, there is always an overshoot,” Slim once said. “When
there is a crisis that provokes an adjustment, an overreaction comes
along and things get undervalued.”
Slim’s enormous wealth stands starkly against his frugal lifestyle.
He has lived in the same house for about 40 years and drives an aging
Mercedes Benz, although it is armored and trailed by bodyguards. He
eschews private jets, yachts and other luxuries popular among Mexico’s
After studying engineering, Slim founded a real estate company and
worked as a trader on the Mexican stock exchange.
His wealth growing, he opened a brokerage in the mid-1960s and a
decade later he began his trademark trait of buying failing businesses,
including a cigarette company. He acquired department store and cafe
Sanborns, a mine operator and manufacturers of cables and tires.
By 1990 Slim had built the fortune he used with partners to buy
Telmex and launch his telecoms empire. America Movil now has 201
million customers from Brazil to the United States.
Slim has handed over the day-to-day operation of his companies to
his three sons and loyal business partners but remains clearly in
charge when appearing with them at media events.
He has become involved in combating poverty, illiteracy and poor
healthcare in Latin America and promotes sports projects for the poor,
but has never voiced plans to give chunks of his wealth to charity like
Gates or fellow billionaire Warren Buffett.
Businessmen, he says, do more good by creating jobs and wealth
through investment, “not by being Santa Claus.”
(Editing by Catherine
Bremer and Eric