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Meet Carlos Slim, the richest man in the World

He may not be as famous as Microsoft’s Bill Gates, but Mexican oligarch Carlos Slim Helú is wealthier – and much more ruthless, says Tom Leonard.

Telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim Helu was ranked as the richest person  in the world

Net Worth: $53.5 bil
Fortune: Self Made
Source: telecom
Age: 70
Country Of Citizenship: Mexico
Residence: Mexico City
Education: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Bachelor of Arts / Science
Marital Status: Widowed, 6 children
Telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim Helu was ranked as the richest person in the world Photo: BLOOMBERG

Winds of change from the developing world may be sweeping new contenders into the highest reaches of the mega-wealthy, but so much about the first non-American in 16 years to become the globe’s richest man seems reassuringly familiar. Carlos Slim Helú is portly, loves Cohiba cigars and his idea of winding down at home with the family used to be sitting his teenage sons down for an economics lesson.

The 70-year-old Mexican’s path to an estimated $53.5 billion (£35.8 billion) fortune is resolutely “Old School”, too – buy companies cheap, turn them around and then ruthlessly drive the competition out of the market.

On Wednesday, Slim was named by Forbes magazine as the world’s richest person, ousting Bill Gates. He has been compared to the American “robber barons” of the 1890s, only all of them – Rockefeller, Carnegie and J P Morgan – rolled into one. For even John D Rockefeller’s grip on the oil industry does not come close to matching the monopolistic power that Slim exercises over his fellow Mexicans and, increasingly, others. Whether he is making a phone call, buying a soft drink or coffee, smoking a cigarette, going out in the car or using a cash machine, it is unlikely the average Mexican can avoid patronising a Slim-owned business and contributing to the almost $30 million he is estimated to earn each day.

Through a sprawling empire of more than 200 companies – he has said he has “lost count” exactly how many – which encompass banking, retail, airlines, mining, printing, construction, restaurants and particularly telecoms, he has developed an economic stranglehold on his native country so vice-like that a new word – Slimlandia – had to be created to describe it.

A modest lifestyle is often mistaken for a disregard for money, when it is in fact a healthy regard for conserving the stuff. Although he claims not to care about rich lists, the king of Slimlandia, who likes to wear a cheap plastic watch that doubles as a calculator, is certainly parsimonious.

The son of a poor Lebanese immigrant, he still keeps the ledgers in which his father made him note down his management of his weekly five pesos pocket money. (He still prefers paper and pen, does not use a computer and insists that advisers confine their briefings to one sheet of paper.)

Slim lives a life far removed from the conspicuous consumption of, say, Russian oligarchs. One of the latter might have indulged Slim’s passion for baseball by buying his favourite team, the New York Yankees. Slim, however, is content to remain a fan, albeit one with a computer-like memory for player statistics. Other indulgences are also understated – he likes to stay up late reading history books, particularly about Genghis Khan. His Mexico City home has just six bedrooms and a small swimming pool, even if it is filled with art by Renoir, Van Gogh, Rivera and his personal favourite, Rodin.

Visitors to Mexico City will find few grand monuments to its richest son. Slim’s telecoms giant, América Móvil operates out of a former tyre factory. The main offices of Inbursa, his financial business, contain a somewhat down-at-heel art gallery where Slim often likes to eat his lunch on a fold-out table in the middle of the room. His companies are famously obsessed with costs and loathe to borrow, a legacy that might go back to the days when he would write Confucian-style strictures such as “Maintain austerity in prosperous times (in times when the cow is fat with milk)” in staff handbooks.

The Slim pennies are not only pinched in his businesses. A contributing factor to Slim overtaking Gates (by just $500 million) in this year’s Forbes rich list was that the Microsoft founder has recently given much of his fortune away to good causes. Slim is a relative latecomer to grand gifts to charity.

Although he recently pledged $6 billion for his three foundations, which devote much of their work to health, education and economic development, hopes that he will become what one of his former executives described as “the Rockefeller of Latin America” still look distant. Some recall his unfortunate remark in 2007 that he had no intention of “going around like Santa Claus” giving away his money; or an earlier, vague but selfish-sounding statement to a New York dinner that while others wanted to leave the world a better place for their children, he wanted to “leave better children for my world”.

Of those children, his three grown-up sons are increasingly taking a prominent role in the family empire, especially after Slim Senior had heart surgery 13 years ago. Slim – whose wife, Soumaya, died from kidney disease in 1999 – meets them, along with his two sons-in-law, every Monday for a simple home-cooked meal at his house where they discuss business. In keeping with his homespun image, the boys were never packed off like their peers to expensive foreign business schools but went to Mexican colleges and then learnt on the job.

Some observers have protested that Slim owes much of his business success not to financial genius but to his development of cosy ties with successive Mexican governments (and he does not just restrict his political funding to one party).

Slim instead attributes much of his achievement to his father, Julian, who was 14 when he emigrated from the Lebanon to avoid military service in the Ottoman Empire and built a fortune from a general store during the 1910 Mexican Revolution. Jean Paul Getty was also an early role model after the younger Slim read an article in Playboy about Getty’s business success. By 11, he was investing in government saving bonds; by 15, he had bought a small shareholding in Mexico’s biggest bank.

He was worth $40 million by the time he was 26 but really struck gold during Mexico’s 1982 recession when he was able to hoover up businesses at knock-down prices. In 1990, he received his second big break when Mexico privatised its national telecoms company, Telmex, and Slim beat off the American giant Southwestern Bell and France Telecom to snatch it up. Telmex now operates around 90 per cent of Mexico’s telephone lines while its mobile phone network is the biggest in Latin America. He has a growing list of American interests, including an 18 per cent stake in the department store group Saks and a one per cent share of the Citigroup bank.

Cynics might say he dropped any aversion to charity when, in January last year, he revealed plans to inject $250 million into the New York Times newspaper – upping his previous 6.4 per cent stake in the liberal publisher. If nothing else, his Times stakes pulled him out of the shadows and enhanced his public profile.

At home, he has his critics, as one might expect of a billionaire getting so rich in a country with so much poverty and social unrest. Slim has been taken to task for charging steeply for phone calls in a country where the minimum wage is 50 cents an hour. This connects with a popular criticism that monopolistic oligarchs, such as Slim, are stifling Mexican economic efficiency and its ability to compete internationally.

While he has a reputation as usually personable and unassuming, Slim is known to have a short temper and to be thin-skinned over press criticism. Detractors note that he would have to contend with rather more unflattering scrutiny if he lived in a country where the media were less worried about the commercial risks of offending him.

Meanwhile, rivals grumble – privately of course – that he has become too greedy since the loss of his wife left him with nothing to think about other than business. Slim, $18.5 billion up on the year according to Forbes, affects to be unmoved by the swings of his and his fellow multibillionaires’ outrageous fortunes. As he observed recently: “It’s not a competition.”

Carlos Slim: profile of the world’s richest man

Each Monday, the richest man in the world likes to sit down to a home-cooked Mexican meal of quesadillas or chile relleno in his simply-furnished family home.

With just six bedrooms and a modest swimming pool, from the exterior the house is worlds apart from the sprawling mansions inhabited by Bill Gates – whom he yesterday beat to the top of the Forbes list of The World’s Billionaires.

But inside the clues of Mr Slim’s vast personal fortune of $53.5bn (£35.8bn) are all around: the walls are adorned with the paintings of Van Gogh, Renoir and Diego Rivera, while the rooms are dotted with sculptures by Auguste Rodin – of which Mr Slim is the world’s foremost collector.

Mr Slim’s vast family empire controls more than 200 companies spanning industries including banking, telecoms, road-building and restaurants.

His influence is all-encompassing in his homeland of Mexico, and it is rapidly spreading across the border into the USA and beyond.

But at 70 he remains committed to his humble roots. He idolises his father, Julian, who emigrated from Lebanon at the age of 14 and made his fortune trading property in the 1910-17 Mexican revolution.

Mr Slim’s own business ambitions were compounded when he read an article about Jean Paul Getty, the American oil billionaire, in Playboy magazine.

He invested in Government saving bonds at the age of 11, tracking his purchases in a detailed ledger. By the age of 15 he had bought a small shareholding in Banco Nacional de Mexico – then the country’s largest bank.

After taking a degree in civil engineering at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, he began working 14-hour days to build his own stockbroking company.

By the age of 26, in 1966, Mr Slim was worth a $40m through a series of investments and acquisitions.

The following year he married Soumaya Domit Gemayel, also a Lebanese-Mexican, with whom he would go on to have six children before her death from a kidney ailment in 1999.

Mr Slim’s big break, like his father’s, came at a time of national crisis: he took advantage of a countrywide “fire sale” of assets by local and foreign investors in the Mexican recession of 1982 to build on his business empire.

During this period of economic turbulence he formed Grupo Carso, which now owns retail outlets such as Sanborns and Sears, as well as a raft of manufacturing businesses.

It also owns T1MSN – the Latin American version of Microsoft’s MSN website – ironic since Mr Slim refuses to use computers and demands that advisers present everything he needs to know about each business deal on a single sheet of paper.

Eight years after the recession, Mr Slim took charge of Mexico’s national telecoms company, Telmex, beating off competition from 35 other bidders.

His mobile telephone network, America Movil, has opened up swathes of Latin America to the mobile market and now serves more than 153 million customers in 11 counties including Brazil and Ecuador.

Last year he extended his tentacles into North America when he announced plans to inject £250 million into the struggling national newspaper, the New York Times, in which he already owned a 6.4 per cent stake.

Mr Slim’s interests across the border include a 1 per cent share of Citigroup, the troubled banking conglomerate, which he bought last year.

But – apart from his lavish art collection – Mr Slim is a man of simple tastes. He has eschewed the billionaire’s obligatory Rolex in favour a plastic wristwatch that doubles as a calculator, and his offices in Mexico City are littered with paperwork with not a computer in sight.

When not at work he spends his evenings with his family, and enjoys lavishing attention on his grandchildren.

The son of Lebanese immigrants is known for his philanthropy – though not on the same scale as Mr Gates or Mr Buffett, whose charitable efforts he has previously mocked.

Most recently, he joined forces with Bill Clinton, the former US President, and Frank Giustra, the Canadian mining tycoon, to launch an anti-poverty campaign in Latin America.

Earlier this month he pledged $6bn for his three charitable foundations.

Meanwhile, his infrastructure firm, Ideal, is working on a project to develop a shopping centre, schools and a hospital in Mexico City.

But the billionaire has made it clear that he has no plans to retire from business to concentrate on charitable work, as Mr Gates has done.

In a recent interview, he said: “Wealth is like an orchard. You have to share the fruit, not the trees.”

Source :

Prakash – Chennai


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