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Carlos Slim Helu: Iconic tycoon, philanthropist

This self-made Mexican businessman, one of the wealthiest in the world, heads Grupo Carso, a conglomerate with diverse interests. He also promotes arts and engages in philanthropy.

inspiring-lives Updated: Jan 28, 2020 16:40 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Forbes magazine named Carlos Slim the world’s richest man several times.
Forbes magazine named Carlos Slim the world’s richest man several times. (ILLUSTRATION: Rushikesh Tulshiram Gophane)

Born on January 28, 1940 in Mexico City to Lebanese Christian immigrants Linda Helu Atta and Julian Slim Haddad. Carlos’s father Julian Haddad had amassed a great deal of fortune in real estate. Carlos Slim suffered a major setback at the age of just 13 when his father passed away. Slim went on to graduate in engineering from Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

Career

During the economic crash in 1982, the Mexican government defaulted on foreign debts and had to nationalise the banks. At a time when nationalisation scared away foreign investors, Slim acquired controlling stakes in several companies at low prices and turned them around into profitable companies. The first big company in which he had stakes was the former national telephone monopoly Telefonos de Mexico (Telmex).

In 2000, Slim acquired the ailing electronics firm CompUSA. Having realised that it would not be possible to make it profitable, he sold it in 2007. Slim became the largest shareholder in the New York Times Company, the finance firm Citigroup, the luxury retailer Saks and also electronics retailer Circuit City.

Philanthropy

In 1994, Slim founded a not-for-profit art museum in Mexico City named Museo Soumaya after his wife. In 2011, the museum was shifted to a large building designed by his son-in-law. He also played a key role in revamping the historic centre in Mexico City. He set up the Foundation for the Historic Centre of Mexico City in 2000 and won the Hadrian Award from the World Monuments Fund for his efforts.

His philanthropic efforts include the setting up of the Carlos Slim Foundation which promotes health, sports and education. In 2009, the Carlos Slim Foundation tied up with the Bangaldeshi Grameen Bank founded by economist Muhammad Yunus. He launched the Grameen-Carso microcredit programme in Mexico which gave small loans to poor individuals. He has established three non-profit foundations: Fundacion Carlos Slim Helu, Fundacion Telmex and Fundacion del Centro Historico de la Ciudad de Mexico AC which focus on arts, education and health care.

Personal life

He is the honorary chairman of Grupo Carso but after a heart surgery in 1999, handed over many of his responsibilities to his sons and daughters. In 2014, Slim proposed the idea of an 11-hour per day, 33-hour work per week which, he claimed, would improve the quality of life. Slim had married Soumaya Domit in 1967. They had six children. Forbes magazine named Carlos Slim the world’s richest man several times.

Despite his great wealth, Slim has a frugal lifestyle. He has been living in a six-bedroom house for three decades. In 2015-16, Slim criticised Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump for alleged racist comments about Mexican immigrants and planning to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. In 2017, Slim offered to help Mexico negotiate with President Trump in dealing with the US government. This time, he praised Trump’s negotiation skills and said he wants to transform the US.

Interesting facts

1. Carlos Slim’s father had migrated from Lebanon to Mexico in 1902 and set up successful import and real estate businesses. His mother’s family, also from Lebanon, settled in Mexico City at the end of the 19th century.

2. The Wall Street Journal had stated that for anyone in Mexico, it is difficult not to spend money on some product or service owned by one of Slim’s companies. His company, Telmex, controls most of the landline phone business and its subsidiary, America Movil, handles a large part of the country’s mobile phone services. Slim owns as many as 220 companies in sectors as varied as banking, railways and restaurants.

3. Slim loves baseball even though football is Mexico’s most popular sport. In 1998, he wrote an article for a Mexico City magazine about lesser known baseball figures. Carlos Slim, along with Alex Rodriguez, baseball player of the New York Yankees, visited the new Sports Center Ciudad Jardin Telmex Bicentenario, the biggest sports centre in Mexico in the old waste dump of the Bordo de Xochiaca, in Nezahualcoyotl.

Sources: britannica.com, thefamouspeople.com