What Mukesh Ambani is to India, Carlos Slim Helú is to Mexico. In December 2020, while Mukesh Ambani’s net worth was US$76.5 billion, Carlos Slim Helu’s was a close US$68.9 billion. Born on January 28, 1940, in Mexico City, Mexico, the self-made billionaire became one of the wealthiest people in the world through his conglomerate, Grupo Carso, SA de CV. The conglomerate has interests in the fields of communications, construction, energy, retailing, healthcare, insurance, mining, publishing, education, hospitality, sports, and finance. But 57% of Slim’s wealth comes from his company America Movil, which is the biggest mobile-phone company in Latin America. Slim also owns the American retail giant Sears Mexico, which has continued to grow under his leadership despite the chain filing for bankruptcy in the US. Today with hundreds of companies in Mexico belonging to Slim’s family, the locals call Mexico ‘Slimlandia’. Carlos Slim Helu is a Mexican businessman, investor, philanthropist and among the world’s richest.
An early start
Slim was born to Lebanese Christian immigrants Mexic Julián Slim Haddad and Linda Helú Atta. During the Mexican Revolution of 1910–20, Julian’s real estate business grew leaps and bounds. As the young Slim watched his father, his he developed an interest to manage business. His father encouraged him and even taught him every aspect of business from accounting, finance, management and record-keeping to understanding complex financial statements. Armed with this knowledge, at 11 years Slim invested in a government savings bond. When he was 12 years, he purchased his first shares in a Mexican bank. By the age of 15 years Slim had become a shareholder in Mexico’s largest bank. A young boy was on his way to become the most successful business magnet. He had inherited from his father Julian, business acumen, strong work ethics, and commitment to traditional Lebanese moral values.
Carlos Slim, the young adult
Slim was quick to learn business maintaining every financial and business transaction in his personal ledger book. In 1961, Slim graduated with a degree in civil engineering from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). While graduating, he also taught as a professor of algebra and linear programming in the same college. After graduating from college, Slim worked as a stock trader. All along he continued to invest in different businesses.
In 1965, when Slim’s personal investment profits reached US$400,000, he incorporated his own company Inversora Bursátil and became its Chairman. During the same year, he bought Jarritos del Sur and incorporated Inmobiliaria Carso. Then in 1969, he added three new companies Nacional de Arrendamientos, Bienes Raíces Mexicanos, S.A., and Invest Mentor Mexicana. The young adult Slim, was laying a strong foundation for Grupo Carso – a name derived from the combination of the first syllables of Carlos and his wife, Soumaya.
This was Slim’s doorway to a billionaire.
From businessman to billionaire
In 1972, Pedregales del Sur, S.A. starts operations. In 1976, the group acquires 60% of Galas de México, a small printer of cigarette-pack labels for US$1 million. By the 70s Slim had business in real estate, printing, construction, soft drink, bottling, and mining.
Slim decided to consolidate the business in the 1980s. He formed Grupo Galas as the parent company of the conglomerate whose principal activities at the time were industry, construction, mining, retail, food, and tobacco. In 1981, Slim became a majority stakeholder in Cigarros la Tabacelera Mexicana (Cigatam), Mexico’s second largest cigarette company. By 1982, on one hand while Mexico was going through an economic crisis, the other, Slim’s smart investments had made him a billionaire. He continued to buy or invest in large corporations like Empresas Frisco (mining), Cigatam (tobacco) Industrias Nacobre (copper products), Compania Hulera Euzkadi (tires), Bimex (hotels), Sanborn Hermanos (food retailer), Seguros de México (insurance), British American Tobacco (cigarettes) and The Hershey Company (food).
The conglomerate made a large fortune when Mexico privatized its telecom industry and Grupo Carso acquired Telmex from the government of Mexico. Grupo Carso was floated as a public company with international IPOs in 1990. Later in 1996, Grupo Carso was split into three companies: Carso Global Telecom, Grupo Carso, and Invercorporación. In 1997, Slim bought the Mexican arm of Sears Roebuck. By 1999, Slim began expanding his business interests beyond Latin America.
Having spread his wings to America, Slim purchased large stakes in major US retailers such as Barnes & Noble, OfficeMax, Office Depot, Circuit City, Borders, and CompUSA. Also, América Telecom, the holding company for América Móvil, was incorporated in 2000. He further set up Telmex USA and also acquired a stake in Tracfone, a US cellular telephone company. In 2005 Slim invested in a Mexican airline called Volaris.
He also established Impulsora del Desarrollo y el Empleo en América Latina SAB de CV (IDEAL), a company to promote Development and Employment in Latin America which undertook large government contracts for the development of Latin America. Beyond America, Slim’s business had now spread to Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua, Peru, Chile, Honduras, and El Salvador.
On March 29, 2007, Slim had surpassed Warren Buffett to become the world’s second richest person. While Slim’s net worth stood at US$53.1 billion, Buffet was at US$52.4 billion. August 8, 2007, Fortune magazine reported that Slim had overtaken Bill Gates as the world’s richest person. His acquisitions increased and so did his wealth until the Black Friday of 2016 after Donald Trump’s election, when global markets contracted and the Mexican peso’s value fell to a record low, causing Slim to lose more than 9% of his wealth.
In December 2020, his net worth was estimated at US$68.9 billion.
In 2011, Slim pledged US$4 billion to his Carlos Slim foundation. His other philanthropic endeavors include initiatives like funding a genomic medicine research project, and subsidizing numerous arts and education projects in Mexico City. He even gave Mexico City the Museo Soumaya (named after his late wife), which displays his art collection for no admission fee. Slim has founded three nonprofit foundations for Mexico City: Fundación Carlos Slim Helú for the arts, Fundación Telmex for education, health care, sports; and Fundación del Centro Histórico de la Ciudad de México A.C. for downtown restoration.
- Entrepreneurial Merit Medal of Honor in 1985 from Mexico’s Chamber of Commerce.
- Commander in the Belgian Order of Leopold II.
- The 1994 Golden Plate Award by American Academy of Achievement.
- Latin Trade magazine names Carlos Slim as CEO of the year 2003.
- In 2004 Latin Trade magazine confers the title – CEO of the decade.
- Received Lebanon’s prestigious National Order of the Cedar towards philanthropy in 2008.
- Hispanic Society of America awards Fundacion Carlos Slim the Sorolla Medal for its contribution to the arts and culture, 2011.
- Awarded an Honorary doctorate in public service from George Washington University, 2012.
- Conferred Sophia Award for Excellence by Queen Sofia Spanish Institute on March 21, 2020.
The man whose net worth is equivalent to about 6% of Mexico’s gross domestic product, still continues to overlook the family business empire while involving himself in philanthropic activities. Today, he has handed over the reins of the business to his three older sons Carlos, Marco Antonio, and Patrick, who serve in key positions and manage the day-to-day business. Like Mukesh Ambani’s growing fortune which has been a subject of controversy, so has Slim’s who has amassed unimaginable wealth in a poor developing country. But, without the existence of such businessmen developing countries would not be able to turn their wheels of progress. After all, wheels of fortune and wheels of progress are just two sides of the same coin!