Carlos Slim – First World’s Richest Man from Mexico

Carlos Slim Helú was born in Mexico on January 28, 1940. His origins however are much more exotic than that. Both his parents were Lebanese, so Carlos Slim has eastern blood running though his veins. His father, Julián Slim Haddad left Lebanon and moved to Mexico when he was only 14. Here he later met Doña Linda Helú, whose Lebanese parents had arrived in the country at the end of the 19th century. They got married in 1926 and had six children, the fifth being Carlos.

By the time Carlos’ parents first met, both of them had been accustomed to the business world: Julián had a dry goods store – La Estella del Oriente (The Star of the Orient) – and some real estate in Mexico City; Doña Linda’s parents owned one of the first magazines dedicated to Lebanese-Mexicans. This explains why Carlos and his siblings received a sound education regarding money and business. By the age of 12 he was ready to enter the business world by purchasing shares in a Mexican bank. (Sounds a little like Warren Buffett’s story, doesn’t it? ). Sadly though, Julián Slim died the following year, when Carlos was only 13. His sudden death affected greatly the entire family, as they had all been very close.

But as time passed, wounds were healed and Carlos continued his education at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where he studied engineering. While a student, he also taught linear programming and algebra there. After a few years of teaching he found himself ready to start his first business venture, and he incorporated  Inversora Bursátil and later bought Jarritos del Sur. His success was so big, that by 1966 he was already worth $40 million and that’s when he founded Inmobiliaria Carso. This brings us to his wife, Soumaya Domit Gemayel. ‘Carso’ is actually the name that resulted by merging the first three letters of Carlos’ name and the first two of his wife’s name. The two were married for 33 years, until 1999 when Soumaya passed away.

You should know that from now on a lot of different company names will appear in this biography, because “Mr. Monopoly”, as he is known in Mexico, invested in countless businesses and companies to get where he is today. Interestingly enough though, he himself sais that he doesn’t really care whether or not he is the world’s richest man, he never actually fought for the title, and he is aware of the fact that his fortune could very easily drop, just as it went up. Wise assertion, we have to say.

By 1980 he had bought and established several businesses in real estate, construction, mining and more. He even bought 60% in a printing business. He founded Grupo Galas, the parent company of a conglomerate with interests in mining, construction, retail, tobacco, and food. Two years later, the country’s economy started to collapse. This however didn’t scare Carlos, who actually was brave (or wise!) enough to invest heavily in many Mexican businesses and upgrade his ‘portfolio’. Reynolds Aluminio, General Tire’s branch in Mexico, Bimex Hotels and more were all part of his bold acquisitions. He added to this 40% of British American Tobacco in Mexico, 50% of Hershey’s and a lot of purchases in financial services.

In 1990 he bought Telmex from the Mexican government, together with other investors. Telmex (stands for Teléfonos de México) is a telecommunications company that provides services and products in Mexico and other Latin-American countries. While Telmex operates about 90% of the countries telephone lines, Telcel (his mobile telephony company) operates about 80% of the Mexican cell phones. This explains why The Wall Street Journal once said that “it’s hard to spend a day in Mexico and not put money in [Slim’s] pocket”.

Anyway, to make the long story short, we’ll just tell you that in 1999 Carlos Slim began extending his businesses beyond Latin America, while continuing to buy ‘everything’ in his country. His wealth grew steadily to billions of dollar, making him the first “Richest Man in the World” from a developing country. He earned this title twice, first in 2007 when his net worth was estimated at $59 billion, the second time last year, when Forbes put him on the top of their list with a net worth of $53.5 billion, thus leaving behind both Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

Now you’d probably expect this guy to lavishly spend enormous amounts of money on all kinds of stuff, just like Roman Abramovich does (which by the way is only the 50th richest man in the world). But you would be wrong to assume that. Carlos Slim is actually famous for his frugality. Let us explain. The man could afford to spend about $1.000 every minute and do so for 100 years before getting broke. It’s not us who did the math, but we find the information really interesting! Now he definitely won’t live another 100 years to do so (unless the most coveted ‘everlasting life elixir’ is discovered soon), but even if he did, be sure he would never spend his money like that. He has been living in his six-bedroom home for 40 years now and we never heard of million-dollar cars in his garage.

carlos slim heluBut that doesn’t mean he keeps all that money (literally more than he can spend) only for himself. Carlos Slim is actually very involved in philanthropic activities and gives away large sums of money for charity. He knows very well that money really isn’t everything and his own words are: “When you give, do not expect to receive. ‘Fragrance clings to the hand that gives the rose’, says a Chinese proverb. ”.  These words are taken from a Letter to Young People he wrote in June 1994. Slim’s current main activities are related to philanthropic activities which focus on health, education, and employment in Mexico and the rest of Latin America (even though some people criticize him for monopolizing the country and thus discouraging smaller companies to develop and offer more jobs).

All in all, this is a man that we can admire. He kept in mind the good principles that his father had taught him and when money started to grow on trees for him, he did not become an irrational spender. Clearly, not everyone is like him. How would you live your life if you could afford to enjoy any lifestyle you can imagine?

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