Category: Professional article
Business Insider, August 2, 2015
I wrote this article while I was an editorial intern at Business Insider. The website often features wealthy public figures. It was interesting to research and write about a man who is so influential, yet whom I had never heard of before this assignment. I have included the text of the article below.
Meet Carlos Slim Helu, the wealthiest man in Mexico
Carlos Slim Helu, Mexico’s wealthiest man and one of the richest self-made billionaires in the world, flies under the radar more than you might expect, considering he owns more than 200 companies in Mexico, which some call “Slimlandia.”
With a net worth of at least $35.4 billion, Slim’s influence is far-reaching in Mexico and abroad.
So what drives the man who built a giant business empire across one of the poorest counties in the Americas? Read on to find out.
Slim’s parents were Lebanese immigrants who moved to Mexico before his birth. They endowed their son with strong values, and his father taught him to read financial documents and to invest at a young age. Slim has carefully preserved his childhood home and keeps a photograph of his father on his desk.
After moving to Mexico, Slim’s father was successful in both retail and real estate; upon his death in 1953, his son Carlos inherited his businesses.
Slim also holds a deep love for his country. He said, “Mexico is so rich in culture and history, and I have always enjoyed that.”
Slim went to college at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, or UNAM, Mexico’s National Autonomous University. He studied civil engineering and graduated in 1961. Soon after, he founded his first company, Inversora Bursatil, an insurance company.
Though Slim is known best at founder and chairman of the conglomerate Grupo Carso and chairman of telecommunications giant Telmex, his riches also result from many other business ventures. Slim spent much of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s building a diverse portfolio that now dominates the Mexican economy.
Slim has a foolproof strategy for making money: He acquires struggling companies and transforms them into multi-billion dollar holdings before selling his stake at a profit. In particular he took advantage of the Mexican debt crisis in 1982 in order to purchase many deflated companies.
We saw Slim’s strategy firsthand in the U.S. in 2009, when he loaned $250 million to The New York Times. At a 14% interest rate, you can bet he profited from this deal. Slim saw the deal as a business venture, rather than a foray into journalism, and he’s now the largest individual shareholder of The Times.
Slim first entered the international spotlight in 1001 when he appeared on Forbes’ billionaires list with a net worth $1.7 billion. The previous year, he saw his first big success when Grupo Carso went public and led the privatization of state phone company Telmex.
In 2010, Slim surpassed Bill Gates as the richest man in the world; it was the first time in 16 years that the world’s richest man wasn’t from the U.S. Though Bill Gates is currently the richest man in the world once again, Slim is the wealthiest in Mexico with a net worth of at least $35.4 billion.
Slim’s presence is all over Mexico. As The Telegraph reports, “The reach of his dominion is so large that the average Mexican will wake up on sheets bought from a Slim-owned store; buy their morning bread from a Slim-owned bakery; and drive to work in a Slim- insured car.”
Slim’s critics accuse him of being a monopolist whose practices drive prices and unemployment through the roof. The billionaire doesn’t let criticism bother him: “When you live for other’s opinions, you are dead. I don’t want to live thinking about how I’ll be remembered.”
In fact, Slim has no need to cater to public opinion; his wealth has granted him political influence to the extent that, for the most part, the Mexican government turns a blind eye to the dominance he has over the telecom industry.
Despite his critics, Slim states that since becoming a billionaire, he has “more activity, more responsibility, and more compromise… The compromise is the challenge of solving Mexico’s problems. I’m trying to make our country better in the areas that I can.”
Slim says that his biggest goal is poverty alleviation, which he sees as the responsibility of private businessmen like himself. He has revealed plans to invest over $4 billion in various Mexican industries in 2015 and has received numerous awards for philanthropy.
As far as charity goes, Slim believes in alleviating poverty at the institutional level. He says, “Poverty isn’t solved with donations. The establishment of business is more beneficial to society than going around like Santa Claus.”
Though he is inordinately wealthy, Slim does not believe in conspicuous consumption— he doesn’t own any yachts or planes. Most of his money goes towards further investments in business or philanthropy, though he does have a set of hand-carved and blown Baccarat wine glasses that were owned by the previous president of Mexico.
Tim Padgett, who interviewed Slim for Time Magazine said, “Just by looking at him, you would never know he is a billionaire.” Slim has lived in the save six-bedroom house for 40 years. He indulges in only two big luxuries: Cuban cigars and art collecting.
Slim is a unique billionaire in that he has no homes outside of Mexico; however, he has numerous real-estate holdings, including a mansion on Fifth Avenue that he purchased in 2010 as an investment, not a residents. It is now on the market for $80 million, which would make it the most expensive townhouse ever sold in New York City and almost double Slim’s initial investment.
Slim was married to his wife, Soumaya, for 32 years, but she passed away in 1999 due to renal failure. The couple had six children who will inherit Slim’s empire. Slim actually named his first company after her— the word “Carso” in Grupo Carso is an amagalamation of the names Carlos and Soumaya.
In 1993, Slim opened the Museo Soumaya, a nonprofit art museum with free admission in Mexico City named after his late wife, Soumaya. It houses the largest private Rodin collection in the world.
Since his wife’s death, rumors have circulated of Slim’s subsequent romances, most famously with Queen Noor al-Hussein of Jordan. Both Soumaya and Queen Noor’s husband, King Hussein, passed away within one day of one another in 1999. Ten years later, newspaper outlets reported that Slim and the Queen of Jordan had formed a close relationship that included jet-setting around the globe and dining in secret at friends’ houses.
Though Slim still maintains ultimate control of his companies, he has handed over much of the responsibility and decision-making to his three sons, Carlos, Marco Antonio, and Patrick, and to his son-in-law, Arturo Elías Ayub.
Since 2004, Slim has stepped down from the boards of his three largest companies in order to focus on family, philanthropy, and his own health. Every Monday he has dinner with his children and their spouses to discuss business, and every Wednesday he has lunch with his grandchildren.