Carlos Slim. Kinda sounds like one of the bad guys in an old Schwarzenegger movie. The one who Arnie was talking to when he said “I’ll be back!”. Or maybe the name conjures up an image involving Pablo Escobar or another Colombian cartel grandee, sitting around a table laden with white powder with several fat Cuban cigars burning away. Maybe even you’re thinking he sounds like one of those Deep Throat secret source types that gives himself a fancy code name whilst giving the journalist the gossip of the week.
Well, you’d be wrong on all counts. In fact this 66 year old guy of Lebanese descent is Latin America’s richest man, and the world’s third richest behind the rather better known Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. His net worth currently stands at around $30 billion, $10 billion of which was added to the coffers just in the last year.
So where did he get all this cash, you might well ask. Well, Forbes is currently describing him as ‘Midas’, but whatever magic he is using is producing something worth considerably more than mere gold. He is a born and bred native of Mexico City, graduated from UNAM (Mexico’s state run university) as an engineer and spent time as a lecturer before branching out to make the most of his entreprenureal skills.
His riches have attracted controversy, even notoriety, as much of it has come from his takeover, along with other investors, of Telmex when the company was privatised. Mexico’s phone company operates 90% of the lines in the country and is a monopoly that has raised prices massively since it left government ownership, and there are few reports of any proportional increase in service. As one of their customers I can give a reasonable opinion I feel – they ain’t that bad! The phones work, the lines are clear enough, my Prodigy Broadband connection has been trouble free so I’m reasonably happy. It isn’t cheap though – the only bill I dread is the one with Telmex’s logo on the front. But providing you don’t have to deal with their Customer ‘Service’ department, there isn’t much to worry about.
He is also the guy at the top of Telcel, the country’s number one mobile service provider, who seem to have a similar monopoly going, with 80% of the nation’s users hooked on their network. To be fair it is a lot better than the competition from Nextel, Movistar and others. If you read my little blog about my new Motorola then you may not be surprised to hear I am also a Telcel customer. I appear to be contributing to Mr Slim’s fortune on a triple front at the moment with landline, internet and mobile costs all going into his pocket. Telcel aren’t cheap either, although the other’s seem to cost more. I pay 2.5 pesos a minute and 1 peso for a text. To say WAP service is patchy though is understating things just a bit! And they still use those old fashioned scratch cards to add your credit, unless you have taken out a plan!
There’s much more to his business enterprises of course, which include construction and oil, and he is rapidly expanding internationally, but there is also more to the man himself. He is an art lover extraordinaire, involved heavily in the city’s art galleries, and with encouraging artists to come and stay in the city and apparantly has the world’s largest collection of Rodin sculptures. He founded the Mexico City Historic Downtown Foundation, and has busied himself buying up many properties of reknown including Torre Latinamericano, the country’s first skyscraper.
Indeed, it is hard to find a corner of the city without noticing the discreet hand of Slim at work in some way. He is literally everywhere, for good or bad, and has had a greater impact on Mexico than any other individual over the last 10 years, and will probably continue to do so for at least the next 10. So he deserves a mention in my blog, to spread the word about Carlos Slim – not an Arnie movie bad guy, nor associate of Pablo Escobar nor confidant of the Washington Post’s finest! Although seeing as he has crept up Forbes ladder with such stealth and almost unoticed, then perhaps he should be regarded more as the world’s number one International Man of Mystery!