Carlos Slim Helú's net worth is $65 billion, as of November 2017, according to Forbes, making him the sixth richest person in the world. He once held the No. 1 spot, and 2017 was the first year he did not make the top five in more than a decade. His savvy, yet no-nonsense investment philosophy and impeccable track record as an investor have earned him the nickname the "Warren Buffett of Mexico."
He was primarily known as the chairman and chief executive officer of Teléfonos de México, S.A. (Telmex), which handles between 80% to 90% of the landline phone calls in Mexico, and América Móvil (AMX), which is responsible for 70% of the cellular traffic in the country. (Both companies are now led by his son, Carlos Slim Domit). However, his business interests are far more comprehensive, reaching into every nook and cranny of the Mexican economy, and beyond. It is estimated that 40% of the listings on the Mexican Stock Exchange are companies that he in some way controls.
Grupo Carso or Grupo Sanborns SAB, Slim’s conglomerate, owns and operates businesses in education, media, sports and entertainment, healthcare, manufacturing, real estate, airlines, mining, hospitality, technology, oil, retail and financial services. (See How Carlos Slim Built His Fortune.)
Carlos Slim’s Success Story
Carlos Slim became a billionaire during the 1982 currency devaluation and economic crisis in Mexico by investing aggressively and buying entire companies that would soon recover. He was 42 at the time.
Slim’s next big opportunity came in 1990, when the Mexican government sold off its monopoly telephone company, Telmex. Slim’s Grupo Carso pounced on the opportunity.
Soon after the purchase, Slim took an interest in Telmex’ cellular service. By offering prepaid phones, the company’s customer base exploded, growing by 66% every year for the next 15 years. The cellular business, América Movil, with its TracFone brand, has expanded around the world. Altogether, telecommunications accounts for roughly two-thirds of Slim’s staggering wealth. However, América Movil has weathered some new challenges recently as a result of new Mexican legislation aimed directly at breaking up the company’s monopoly. (For more, see Is It the End of the Mexican Telecom Monopoly?)
A Very Rich Man in a Very Poor Country
While Carlos Slim is one of the wealthiest men in the world, the sheer size of his wealth is compounded in contrast to Mexico’s economic development. His $65 billion net worth, as of 2017, stands out in astounding contrast to a nation where the average Mexican worker made $15,311 in 2016, according to OECD data.
That said, Slim, through his reported billions in charitable donations, has taken steps to alleviate the poverty of his nation. He has also spoken publicly of the vital importance of fighting poverty.
“It’s good economically. In the past, it was something ethical and moral. To take poor people out of poverty and put them in the modern economy is very good for the economy, for the country, for society and for business. It is the best investment,” Slim has said.
But others point to Slim as one of the causes of his country’s poverty, especially his monopolistic control of telecommunications in the country. Slim-owned companies control more than 80% of the landline phone calls and more than 70% of the cellular traffic in the country. (For related reading, see AT&T and America Movil: Cooperation to Competition.)
In 2011, The Economist reported that Mexicans pay far more for phone calls - between four and 10 times as much - as people in developed countries. However, in the OECD's "Telecommunication and Broadcasting Review of Mexico 2017" report, the agency said anti-monopoly telecom laws have resulted in price reductions in mobile broadband packages and better quality services.
The Bottom Line
Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim’s wealth is astronomical, and his reach affects virtually all economic life within Mexico. “It's hard to spend a day in Mexico and not put money in [Slim's] pocket," The Wall Street Journal once wrote. However, much like Warren Buffett who he is often compared to, Slim is known for his modest lifestyle. He has lived in the same six-bedroom home in the Lomas de Chapultepec district of Mexico City for most of his life. The low-key mogul has ranked at the top of Forbes Billionaires list for decades, but he is likely to face continued challenges in the telecom arena.