Ranked by Forbes as the richest man in the world from 2010-13, Carlos Slim Helú remains the richest man in Mexico.
Born in 1940 in Mexico City, the son of Lebanese immigrants, Slim occupied the slot of the world’s richest man from 2010-13 and was the first richest person in the world to hail from a developing country. He began to accumulate wealth in the 1970s and 80s following a series of prudent investments amid a series of economic crises in Mexico, following his much-quoted adage that “bad times bring opportunities.”
The art of the flip
Slim took advantage of such times to snap up stakes in distressed businesses at undervalued prices and, by restructuring them, turn them into more profitable enterprises, such as Euzkadi, Mexico’s largest tire manufacturer, Empresas Frisco, a mining and chemicals company, and the Sanborns Hermanos restaurant and department store chain.
He also acquired significant stakes in Cigatam, a Mexican tobacco company, and in the Mexican operations of British American Tobacco, the confectioner The Hershey Company, restaurant chain Denny’s and Firestone Tires. In 1988, Slim bought the Nacobre group of companies, which trades in copper and aluminum products, as well as chemicals company Química Fluor. He is also the largest stakeholder in The New York Times, with a 17% stake.
Slim consolidated his position as a major-league entrepreneur in Mexico with the purchase of the then state-owned telephone company Telmex from the government in 1990, with foreign partners France Télécom and Southwestern Bell Corporation. He is the CEO of América Móvil, Latin America’s largest mobile telecommunications company, and which includes Telcel, Mexico’s largest mobile network by number of subscribers.
"Slim consolidated his position as a major-league entrepreneur in Mexico with the purchase of the then state-owned telephone company Telmex from the government in 1990"
Slim also owns Grupo Financiero Inbursa, a financial services company, and is the CEO of Grupo Carso, an infrastructure conglomerate Slim founded in 1980 and which currently has a market capitalization of $8.9 billion, and which became a publicly traded entity in 1990. The company has won a number of major public works contracts, most recently the second section of the ‘Tren Maya’, a tourist train that will run across Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, and a contract for the construction of a 403-mile natural gas pipeline between Samalayuca and Sasabé across northern Mexico, and which is currently under construction.
Slim had always shown an interest in the construction sector, having graduated as a civil engineer in 1961, and in order to take control of the company’s supply chain for its construction arm, in 2012 Slim launched Cementos Fortaleza, a cement company, through a joint venture, Elementia, which he founded with fellow Mexican entrepreneur Antonio del Valle, the owner of chemical company Mexichem.
Using the same strategy that had enabled to accumulate assets in Mexico, in 2015 Slim set his sights on Spain, acquiring a stake in Realia, a real estate development company, as well as various properties, taking advantage of the low prices in the sector. Also in 2015, Slim launched Claro Música, offering a music and video subscription service to Telmex clients, complemented by the music stores inside Sanborns stores and the Mix-Up chain, which Slim also owns, and which is Mexico’s largest music retailer, as well as an authorized Apple dealer, with around 120 branches across the country.
That same year, Slim also ramped up his participation in the energy sector, forming his own oil company, Carso Oil & Gas, in response to Mexico’s 2013 energy reform that allowed for greater private participation in the sector. Slim had already entered the sector, having previously bought stakes in two Texas-based drilling companies, and in WellAware, a US-based, energy-focused software developer.
Slim’s charitable entity, the Carlos Slim Helú Foundation, supports healthcare and educational projects both in Mexico and abroad, and which also runs the Soumaya Museum in Mexico City, which houses Slim’s personal art collection, and the Inbursa Aquarium, Latin America’s largest. His 2020 net worth is estimated to be $53.7 billion.