The career of Carlos Slim Helú, mentioned several times as the richest man in the world, is not that of the dishwasher who became a millionaire through hard work. But if you look at the Slims’ family history, you can discover typical elements of such a success story. By the way, Mexico’s wealthiest man doesn’t exactly flaunt his wealth. He doesn’t own a luxury private jet or superyacht and still drives an old Mercedes-Benz. Slim has also lived in the same home for decades and prefers home-cooked meals in the family circle.
Carlos Slim’s Lebanese roots
Carlos Slim’s father, Yusuf Selim Haddad, fled what is now Lebanon when he was 14 because he would otherwise be conscripted into the Ottoman army. So he came to Mexico in 1902, where he changed his oriental name Selim to Slim because it was easier for the Mexicans to pronounce. During those early years he worked as a merchant before opening his first store in 1911.
Low house prices as a basis for current wealth of the Slim family
Pancho Villa’s revolution led to a significant drop in land and housing prices in Mexico City and allowed Slim to acquire them cheaply, serving as the basis for the family’s current wealth. The marriage to Linda Helú, who also came from a wealthy Lebanese family, allowed the family wealth to increase further. Carlos Slim Helu could therefore fall back on a solid financial buffer. But compared to his later fortune (Carlos Slim is considered the richest man in the world), that was only a modest beginning.
Carlos Slim became a millionaire on the stock exchange at the age of 17
Carlos Slim was born in 1940, the fifth of six children, and was raised according to the strict standards of his father, who encouraged him to be diligent and dedicated. Already at the age of eight, he helped in his father’s business. Above all, it taught him his excellent business acumen, which allowed the young Carlos Slim Helú to earn his first million at the age of 17 by speculating on the stock market. However, the fabulous wealth of $53.5 billion that he later acquired was not based on speculation, but on hard work, business acumen and a solid business mind that he acquired from home. For example, he thought it was the most normal thing in the world to keep accounts with his first pocket money.
Further expansion of business empire through acquisition of companies
Numbers have always fascinated Carlos Slim and even his favorite sport, baseball, was seen in this perspective. When he graduated as a structural engineer in 1961, he was, according to family traditions, well equipped to continuously increase the family wealth through construction projects. In 1980 he also started buying up companies. For example, he acquired a tobacco store chain (Sanborn) and the Mexican shares of Sears and Condumex. This is how a business empire was born called Grupo Carso. Carso stands for Carlos Slim and Soumaya Domit, his first wife. (died 1999).
Entry into the telecom sector in 1990
At the same time he established important political contacts. As a result, it was no problem for Carlos Slim to take over the state telephone company Telmex in 1990 when it was privatized. By the way, it was never Carlos Slim’s aim to take over companies and immediately appoint a completely new management there. Instead, he always tried to compress as much as possible by reducing management layers. He is in favor of as few layers as possible so that managers are close to the implementation.
Telmex takeover as an example of failed privatization
The price for Telmex was extremely low at $1.8 billion. The real value was estimated at 10 to 12 billion dollars. In the following period, telephone costs in Mexico rose sharply, but the quality of the network remained the same. Calling rates are among the highest in the world and the market for long-distance calls is still hardly open to other providers. The takeover of Telmex was a textbook example of a failed privatization that drove an important market player into the hands of a monopolist. Under Slim’s leadership, Telmex grew considerably, mainly through investments in the South American market, which it quickly dominated in those parts through its subsidiary América Móvil.
Investments in the American market
Since then, Carlos Slim has also increasingly invested in the American market. He acquired shares in Philip Morris, OfficeMax, Saks, Apple and other companies in the US. As a result, his influence on the media there became increasingly clear. He is one of the major shareholders of the television channel Televisa and acquired a 6.4% stake in the New York Times Company in 2008, a stake that he expanded in 2009.
Entry into the European mobile telephony market via KPN
And now America has also become too small for Carlos Slim. The richest man in the world also wants to control the European mobile telephony market and in 2012 he had his eye on a KPN subsidiary. He has now also acquired a significant interest there and the only question is how Europe can hold off this giant.
Carlos Slim dominates stock exchanges and the mobile telephony market
You can’t be the richest man in the world without also being criticized, especially when the influence on a country is as great as that of Carlos Slim. It employs 250,000 people and is the largest employer in Mexico after the government. His company Telmex dominates the Mexican stock exchange and América Móvil controls virtually the entire mobile telephony market in Latin America. Telecom costs are very high, which has attracted a lot of criticism in light of the prevailing poverty in the countries involved.
Carlos Slim averse to glamor and luxury
In 2012, Carlos Slim again topped the list of richest people in the world with a total wealth of more than 75 billion dollars, an increase of 21.6% compared to 2011! Whether it is innate modesty or a consequence of this criticism is difficult to estimate, but the fact is that glamor and luxury are foreign to him. He lives modestly, lives a secluded life and wears cheap suits. The only luxuries he allows himself are expensive cigars and an art collection.
Social involvement of Carlos Slim, whether sincere or not
Since 2000, his heart has been beating for the restoration of the old part of the city of Mexico, a restoration that, however, his critics emphasize, will also earn him millions. And through various foundations he also participates in many other social projects:
- for example, he and Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunnus started a microcredit project that gives poor people the opportunity to build a life for themselves;
- and beyond that he is committed to the education of young people. In 2007, for example, he announced that he would donate hundreds of thousands of notebooks to children in Mexico as part of the “One Laptop per Child” project. So far, 50,000 devices have been ordered, which will first find their way to schools and libraries.
Despite his great social commitment, he is considered a stone-cold businessman. His statement “I am not Santa Claus, charity does not solve the problem of poverty” is criticized again and again. Although, since the death of his wife and his own heart condition, he has changed considerably. Apparently he is increasingly realizing that he cannot take anything with him after his death.
The power and political influence of Carlos Slim particularly bothers many critics
It is not so much the fact that he is the richest man in the world that bothers the critics. Rather, it is the power and political influence attributed to Carlos Slim. The companies belonging to the Slim empire account for almost 10% of the total economic activity in Mexico. You can’t do anything in Mexico without increasing Carlos Slim’s fortune:
- he controls everything;
- he buys everything;
- and he always remains conspicuously in the background to the outside world.
Bil Gates is the richest again
If we can believe the American magazine Forbes, Carlos Slim lost his first place as the richest man in the world in 2013 to Bil Gates, the founder of software giant Microsoft. With an estimated fortune of 55 billion euros, the American managed to surpass the Mexican telecom boss (“only” 52 billion).
How to earn your first million?
For anyone who wants to emulate Carlos Slim, three main conclusions can be drawn from his career:
- focuses on new technologies and growth markets;
- enter into strategic partnerships;
- don’t waste time and act decisively.