25. Carlos Slim

Billionaire Mexican business magnate

Benjamin Wachenje
"When you live for others' opinions, you are dead. I don't want to live thinking about how I'll be remembered."

Chairman, Grupo Carso
Born: January 28, 1940, Mexico City
Education: Civil engineering, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Carlos Slim had amassed a modest fortune from his conglomerate, Grupo Carso, when a financial crisis hit Mexico in 1982. With the country suffering its worst recession since the Great Depression, he rolled the dice.

Slim went on a buying binge, sweeping all or part of many Mexican companies into Grupo Carso, which already comprised construction and tobacco companies. His purchases included the retailer Sanborns and 40 percent and 50 percent stakes in the Mexican arms of British American Tobacco and Hershey, respectively. He moved into financial services, creating Grupo Financiero Inbursa out of his acquisitions in the sector, and expanded into chemicals and metals trading. Cash flow of one of the first companies he bought, cigarette-maker Cigatam, financed those acquisitions.

In 1990, he pocketed his winnings by taking Grupo Carso public. That gave him the platform to buy the government telephone monopoly Telmex when it was privatized later that year. (He partnered with France Telecom and Southwestern Bell on the $1.7 billion deal.) His control of Mexico's telephone lines let him generate outsize profits while keeping potential competitors at bay.

His mobile company, Telcel, completed his near-monopoly of the country's telecoms, which made him one of the world's richest people. In 1996, he split off his telecom interests into Carso Global Telecom. Through America Movil, a 2000 reinvention of Telcel, Slim expanded his telecom interests throughout the Americas and the Caribbean. With 2012 sales of $59 billion and more than 250 million subscribers, America Movil is the fourth-largest telecom company in the world and the biggest in the Americas.

It is also Mexico's largest and most profitable company, with Mexico's telecom customers paying some of the highest usage rates anywhere. In 2007, Slim's holdings in the sector (he controls 48 percent of America Movil) made him the world's richest person. In the years since, he has jockeyed with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett for that position. Bloomberg currently ranks Slim in second place, with a fortune of $67 billion.

Slim's other holdings include banking (through Inbursa), mining (Minera Frisco), and construction, consumer goods and retailing (Grupo Carso). Not much of daily life in Mexico is untouched by at least one of his businesses.

He also maintains stakes in publicly traded companies, such as Philip Morris, The New York Times Co. andCaixaBank. Bloomberg estimates that Slim has collected more than $5.5 billion in dividend income from his publicly held investments in the past decade.

Of Lebanese descent, Slim is a billionaire in the restrained mold of Buffett, or Amancio Ortega of Inditex, with a sharp mind and an even sharper eye for a bargain—whether a stock or a company. He is notoriously thrifty, and his companies are ferocious about controlling costs. "Maintain austerity in good times" is one of 10 Principles for Grupo Carso that Slim has said he learned from his father, a successful merchant and investor.

Slim, who established Fundación Carlos Slim Helú in 1986 with a $4 billion endowment, now spends much of his time on its work in education and health. He started to hand over operational control of much of his business empire to his children after open-heart surgery in 1997. His eldest son, Carlos Slim Donat, now chairman of Grupo Carso, will have to contend with a potential assault on his father's quasi-monopoly now that the Mexican government wants more competition in the country's telecom sector.

Carlos Slim: Lifelong highlights

  • Created Grupo Carso's name from his given name and that of his late wife, Soumaya Domit
  • Owns the Duke-Semans mansion, a 1901 Beaux-Arts house on Fifth Avenue in New York City
  • Is an avid baseball fan; supports the New York Yankees.
  • Houses his and his late wife's extensive art, religious relics, historical documents, and coin collections in a Fernando Romero-designed museum named in his late wife's honor next to Grupo Carso's headquarters in Mexico City
  • Wealth at one point was equivalent to 7 percent of Mexico's gross domestic product
  • Criticized in Mexico for not giving sufficiently to charity, despite having donated $4 billion to his foundation.

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