Carlos Slim: Timing Is Everything – Seizing the Moment to Build a Fortune

csEstimates of the exact size of his fortune vary, but Mexican business tycoon Carlos Slim is up there with the multiple mega rich. Forbes, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal busily add up the billions and rank the founder of Grupo Carso either first or second on their lists of the über-wealthy with a personal treasure chest containing upwards of $67bn.

Of Maronite Lebanese descent and a civil engineer by trade, Carlos Slim built his global empire by displaying an uncanny knack for timing. Mr Slim took his companies public at precisely the right moment, enabling him to not just cash-in on his business acumen but ride the subsequent ups-and-downs of the stock market in lucrative comfort as well.

As the Mexican economy imploded in 1982 when oil prices fell off a cliff and the government subsequently defaulted on its debt, Mr Slim swung into action buying up depreciated assets almost wholesale. Over a three year span, he acquired insurance companies, banks, an aluminium smelter, a department store, a chain of hotels, another one of grocery stores, and large stakes in food and tobacco industries.

 “I don’t wish to live my life thinking how I’ll be remembered.”

As the economy recovered, Mr Slim’s nascent business empire started generating a healthy cash flow. By 1990, he had the wherewithal to acquire the state-owned telephone company Telmex with partners France Télécom and Southwestern Bell. This move in particular would propel Mr Slim to surpass his US peers Warren Buffett and Bill Gates in wealth.

Telmex – and later mobile operator Telcel – drove Mr Slim into the telecom business which he now dominates throughout Latin America and beyond with América Movíl – the world’s fourth largest mobile network operator serving close to 250 million subscribers in 18 countries. América Movíl is currently trying to gain a foothold in Europe where it already owns a 23% interest in Telekom Austria en a 30% share of KPN Telecom in the Netherlands. However, attempts by Mr Slim to fully take over these companies have so far been thwarted by the Austrian and Dutch governments citing “national security” concerns.

Critics point to Mr Slim’s tendency to prosper in relatively closed markets where his companies can set rates and stifle competitors. However, Carlos Slim is not one to heed advice from others or, indeed, play nice: “I don’t wish to live my life thinking how I’ll be remembered.” Even so, Mr Slim is an avid supporter of good causes and has already made sizeable donations, landing him an eminent spot on the World’s Biggest Givers list of Forbes Magazine.

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