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Americas

Mexico's Carlos Slim bumps Bill Gates to become world's richest

Video by Jonathan CRANE

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2010-03-11

Mexico's mobile phone tycoon Carlos Slim (pictured) has eclipsed Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to take the top spot on Forbes magazine's annual list of the world's richest people with a fortune estimated at $53.5 billion.

For the first time since Forbes began publishing its annual list of the world’s 100 richest people, the top-ranked person is not from North America. Holding the exalted slot is Mexican businessman Carlos Slim, who with his 53.5-billion-dollar fortune, has surpassed Microsoft founder Bill Gates by half a billion dollars.

The head of Telmex didn’t just become a member of the super-rich overnight, but he did make a whopping 18 billion dollars in just one year, easing past Gates and investment mogul Warren Buffet, who had traditionally held the top slots.

Slim’s father, Julian Slim, was a Lebanese who moved to Mexico in 1904 and amassed a small fortune in the food merchandising business, inculcating his six children with the notion of the importance of money. So well was the lesson learned that young Carlos began a business selling drinks on the street at the age of 10.

From cigarettes to telephones

The legend, cleverly perpetuated by the man himself, has it that he developed a yen for business by reading the works of American sociologist and futurologist Alvin Toffler, author of several bestsellers about the advent of the information age. He got his feet wet on the trading floor of the Mexican stock exchange. But according to an interview given by a friend of his to the Wall Street Journal, Carlos did not foresee himself staying there for long, already harbouring ambitions of being a CEO.

Slim increased his fortune in the cigarette industry. In 1981, he bought a part of Cigatam, the company that manufactures Marlboros in Mexico. The money he earned from this venture allowed him to make a killing during the Mexican financial crisis of the 1980s, during which he bought flailing companies, refurbished them, and held onto them until such a time as it became profitable to sell them.

This strategy allowed him, in turn, to amass the funds he needed to buy Telmex, the top Mexican telecom company, at the very moment that Mexican President Carlos Salinas decided to privatise some of the nation’s telecom industry in the late 80s.

Over 200 companies

Owing to this acquisition, Carlos Slim’s business plan took on new dimensions. Telmex controls over 92% of the phone lines in Mexico, giving rise to Slim’s nickname, “Mr. Monopoly.” He would become the target of public criticism for allegedly stamping on any emerging competition.

Over the years, Slim bought everything he could get his hands on. He currently owns more than 200 companies in areas as diverse as cycling, hotels, publishing, and banking. His personal wealth represents nearly 7% of the entire GDP of Mexico, according to the Wall Street Journal. So great is his influence that several restaurants in Mexico have put a tongue-in-cheek notice on their menu, “This place is the only one in Mexico not owned by Carlos Slim.”

 

Date created : 2010-03-11

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