Tuesday, March 23, 2010
CARLOS SLIM HELU was in the news lately. As you guess, the Forbes Magazine found him the richest man in the world. He is worth 53 and half billion Dollars as of now. It is quite a fabulous amount for an individual. Now having reached the top, a reporter innocently asked when he was going to retire. His reply was curious. He asked if an artist could ever remain retired. A painter continues to paint until the end and he has no set date for retirement. Carlos Slim would like to project himself as an artist dealing the dancing numbers and the numbers represent hard currency.
Carlos slim Helu was born in Mexico City, Mexico on January 28, 1940.His father was Julian Slim Haddad and his mother Linda Helu, who came from a distinguished family of Lebanese origin. They had six children and Carlos was the youngest. They were successful small businessmen in the Mexico City.
It is said that Carlos’ father gave small account books to all of his children when they were young to keep track of their pocket money. Carlos religiously noted down the day-to-day income and expenditure and figures changed in the book in front of him. He preferred to call the changes as dancing of figures and he got mesmerized with their dance. The story of the future richest man in the world begins here.
Julian Slim Haddad, Carlos’ father, died in 1952, leaving his family a moderately prosperous economic base from which Carlos launched his successful financial career.
The business strategy of Carlos slim is quite archaic he buys companies when they are breathing their last and repair them into shape and strength. In 1982 Mexico plunged into economic crisis and spurred on by a rising oil price, the government nationalized the banks. The country's elite sold off their assets. There, waiting on the sidelines, as his father had taught him, was Slim. By the time the panic was over Carlos had picked up dozens of companies at rock-bottom prices. It is an old school strategy to buy when the prices are low. But the strategy is time tested and seldom failed. He is also a fierce bargainer. He would not only bargain for big companies but also for a ten dollar tie if he so felt.
He said: "I think one of the big errors people are making right now is thinking that old-style businesses will be obsolete, when actually they will be an important part of this new civilization. Some retail groups are introducing e-commerce and think that the old "bricks" are no longer useful. But they will continue to be important".
Unlike Bill Gates, who was the richest person until now, Slim’s business interest touched on almost all walks of life such as telecommunication, cement-manufacturing, cigarettes, construction, mining, bicycles, soft-drinks, airlines, hotels, railways, banking, printing, you name it. Bill Gates needed the expertise only in his I.T. area whereas Slim needed to be an expert on all those products, their manufacturing and the business angles in order to make profit and maintain growth.
Now the third of the total value of Mexico's leading stock market index accounts for Carlos’ own companies representing a fortune of 7% of the Mexico’s annual economic output. As one Mexico City eatery jokes on its menu: "This restaurant is the only place in Mexico not owned by Carlos Slim." It is really hard to buy anything in Mexico outside Slim Carlos’business tentacles.
Slim Carlos’ Flagship Company is still the communication giant Telmex. He possessed the company when Mexico was under a privatization spree. The company generated hard cash for him when he was buying company after company in Mexico. Telmex controls almost 90% of Telephony in Mexico. As Carlos can choose the price, the cost of phone charges and internet are highest in Mexico compared to other parts of the world. Only half the homes have telephones and the Internet spread is only four percent. If one complains about this to Carlos he would say nonchalantly that the telephone cost is modest compared to U.S.
Mexico suffers the pangs of unbridled monopoly. The absence of healthy competition in certain sectors of industry (like Telephones) is putting strain on the overall economic progress of Mexico. The pace of industrial growth is not as much as desired and it has also affected the State revenue.
The monopolistic angle apart, no one can ignore Carlos Slim's contribution to Mexico. He spends sizable amount of money for philanthropic and charitable causes. He donated $1.8 billion to a charitable venture which included giving away 95,000 bicycles to children of poor families to ride to their schools, 70,000 pairs of eyeglasses, and scholarships to 150,000 university students. Similar donations over the last ten years start to read like a sports score. They include 66 million bikes and 10 million pairs of contact lenses. He even donated thousands of laptop computers to students, thus providing them access to the Internet. It has also to be mentioned here that he has given employment to about 300000 Mexicans in his various companies.
In spite of his chartable works a lot many Mexicans do not trust him. The high cost of his products is one reason and the other is a general feeling that Slim is stifling the country's economy for his personal agenda although Slim would stoutly deny that.
How Carlos Slim Helu came in the enviable position of being the richest man in the world?
The 'X' factor ( Luck ) of course helped him but beyond that he had from the very early age a single minded obsession for power and money and he pursued his goal all thru his life. Slim's strategy has been consistent, Buy companies on the cheap, shape them and ruthlessly drive competitors out of business. He said that Alwin Toffler's best seller 'Future Shock" influenced him. He lived in the present with an eye on the future, just as written in the rule book.
Carlos Slim, on the personal side, is an affectionate family man. He dines with his family every week like any other Mexican. He married a Lebanese-Mexican Soumaya Domit Gemayel whom he had loved immensely and when she died in 1999 with some kidney problems he built an art museum and named it after her.
Slim is a great lover of art. He has adorned his house with original paintings of great Masters. Unlike some other successful businessmen, Slim owns no jet planes, no Yachts or fancy homes.
An aggressive international businessman though he has been perceived, I think there is an ordinary Mexican somewhere within him.
A wonderful person and a wonderful story.