THE NEW AMERICAN DREAM IS MEXICAN
Fiona Walsh, business editor
Tuesday July 3, 2007
Although he is well-known in Mexico and throughout Latin America, the name Carlos Slim barely registers in the rest of the world.
That looks set to change after the surge in the value of his America Movil mobile phones empire over the past few months propelled him to the top of the world's wealth league.
At an estimated $67.8bn (£33.6bn) - equivalent to 8% of Mexico's gross domestic product - his fortune tops the $59.2bn wealth of Microsoft founder Bill Gates by almost $9bn, according to latest calculations.
The son of a Lebanese immigrant, 67 year old Mr Slim heads one of a handful of families who dominate the Mexican economy.
Working from a windowless bunker in Mexico City, his empire stretches from mobile and fixed-line phones to a budget airline, Volaris, a cigarette company, Cigatam, a music retailer, MixUp, and an internet service provider, Prodigy.
But the key to his success was snatching control of Mexico's dominant telecoms operator, Telmex, when the service was privatised in 1990. He became a public figure when he bought a 51% stake in the state phone company during Mexico's privatisation push - a deal that brought complaints of cronyism.
Telmex still accounts for nine-out-of-10 landlines in Mexico and experts say Mr Slim has been vigorous in protecting this near monopoly.
Known as a cautious spender, the tycoon is said to have created a ledger at the age of 12 to record his every purchase - even down to individual tortillas, drinks and doughnuts.
He inherited millions from his father, who opened a successful shop in Mexico City called Star of the Orient.
A father of six, Mr Slim lost his wife to kidney disease in 1999. He has named a museum housing his collection of Rodin sculptures after her.
His vast fortune has not made him popular in a country where half the population still lives in poverty. But, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, Mr Slim is an active philanthropist. He recently developed a charitable foundation aimed at improving healthcare and education in his country, pledging funds of $10bn over four years.
He has made it clear, however, that he does not intend to loosen his grip on his empire, commenting in a recent interview: "Wealth is like an orchard. You have to share the fruit, not the trees."
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