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Carlos Slim Helú


Giorgia Scaturro journalist

Businessmen are creators of the wealth they temporarily manage

More than 20 years ago, on 27 June 2012, when press was still on print, and kiosks still a flourishing business, the cover of Forbes magazine had a quite a large headline made of one big word: ‘Billionaires in white capital letters across the front page. Quite predictable for a publication focused on wealthy people. The breaking news was the man pictured under the headline: a chubby aged man with a big forehead and good tan dressed in a blue suit with a striking pink tie, smiling unassumingly at the reader. Few knew him: he was Carlos Slim Helú and he was believed to be the richest man in the world, with a ‘plan to reboot the economy’. The name came as a surprise: moreover, it was the first time ever a Mexican entered the Forbes Olympus. The special issue was celebrating the 1,226 richest people on the planet.

Ten years ago, sitting on an estimated 69 billion Dollar fortune built over nearly five decades, Slim had been positioned at the peak of the Forbes ranking for three consecutive years (2010-2013) in a nail-biting race with Bill Gates. Wealth, though, is a rollercoaster: few years later, in 2016, his mobile phone firm América Móvil collapsed: the stock plunged nearly 35%, one of the biggest falls ever recorded. The Mexican magnate burnt 3.4 billion dollars in market cap and, most of all, his spot as the world's fourth richest person.

Seven years after that debacle, in 2023, Slim’s fortune is higher than when he was the Number One, with a net worth of 96 billion Dollars, but he ranks “only” at the 11th spot, according to Bloomberg Billionaire Index, not even in the Top10. Other new rich people have emerged, with even bigger wealth. There’s still some trophy to favour: at age of 83, he is still the richest person in Latin America and he still keeps sporting the bright smile of a reluctant billionaire. It’s the only thing that has not changed: he still lives in the same family home, in Mexico City, where he has been living in 40 years, still drives his own cars, still shows no desire to indulge in private jets, yachts or women. He seems to enjoy ‘livin' la vida frugal’, to Ricky Martin’s disappointment.

When we face our problems, they disappear. So learn from failure and let success be the silent incentive


Carlos Slim’s empire, one of the most diverse industrial conglomerates in the world, is built on strong family ties, a thrill for daring, and love. At the beginning of the 1900s, Mexico was shaken by the drums and gunshots of the revolution, bringing an epochal constitutional and political change to the country. As always in human history, social unrest and death also bring profitable opportunities to astute and cynical businessmen. It was the case of Julián Slim Haddad, an immigrant from Lebanon: Carlos’s father started as a trader: La Estrella de Oriente was a dry goods company in a flourishing area of Mexico City, and then, after the Revolution, started to acquire prime real estate at fire sale prices in the Zócalo district of the megalopolis. The smart move created a substantial fortune that Carlos would inherit and expand on.

Julián taught his son how to talk and dress, but especially how to do business, an interest he took seriously from the age of 12. At the time he was earning 200 pesos a week from his family’s company, and bought the first shares in a Mexican bank with the 5,000 pesos that his mother lent him. Every deal is recorded in his paper notebooks where still today he hand-writes his financial data, making computers redundant.

The most precious endowment from his father, who died when Carlos was only 13, however, was the art of spotting business potential in times of adverse economic cycles, the ability to restructure and reinvent struggling enterprises and diversifying his investments. So when in the ’80s the oil price dropped, the Mexican pesos plummeted and the country’s economy crashed, repeating somehow the same situation of the beginning of the century, Carlos did the same as his father: he started buying companies sold at a cheap price by people fearing Mexico could be heading towards a socialist economic model as the government began nationalising banks. He ended up building an empire in construction, mining and real estate, virtually dominating every economic sector in the country.

Competition makes you better, always, always makes you better, even if the competitor wins


In order to aggregate his large portfolio of companies, Slim incorporated the Carso Group combining his name’s initials with the ones of Soumaya Domit, the woman he met and fell in love with when she was just 15: she’d become his wife and mother of their six children. The strong marital bond brought prosperity to his empire, which had a market value of over 10 billion Dollars in December 2022. Carso struck one of its biggest deals in the late ’90s, from the privatisation of state-owned phone company Telmex. The billionaire went on increasing his acquisitions and shares in strategic sectors such as commercial, industrial, infrastructure and energy. As of today Slim owns the largest mobile phone operator in Latin America, and holds stakes in global traded companies, including the global bank giant Citigroup and, at some point, even a 17% stake in The New York Times newspaper.

Firm and patient optimism always yields its rewards


Inside the mesmerising concrete parallelepiped of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, covered in the symbolic imagery of the mural created by Juan OGorman, a young Carlos studied civil engineering while teaching algebra and linear programming. As his brain was processing numbers, his heart was being exposed to art, which would become his guilty pleasure. So much so he built the non-profit Museo Soumaya, a museum wrapped in 16,000 hexagonal aluminium tiles creating a snakeskin generating reflections, in remembrance of his beloved wife; and, in the meanwhile, it serves also as a house for Slim’s private art collection. This ‘Mexican Taj Mahal’ of international art, was designed by Carlos’s son-in-law, architect Fernando Romero, in the shape of a gigantic can gently twisted in the middle. Here, Rodin’s The Thinker is seen pondering next to over 64,000  masterpieces like the ones painted by Titian, Monet, Picasso and Artemisia Gentileschi.

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AQA Capital

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