Success Story - Carlos Slim Helu

From Rags to Riches?

Right at the top of the Forbes magazine list of billionaires is the name of Carlos Slim Helu. Although the name is not as well-known as others on the list such as Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, the 72 year old Mexican outstrips their successes with an estimated personal fortune of $69 billion. So who exactly is Carlos Slim Helu and how did he become the world’s richest man?


Slim Helu is not a typically Hispanic surname, and this gives the first clue to the family’s origins. Both of Slim Helu’s parents emigrated to Mexico from Lebanon, arriving in the Americas when they were teenagers. Carlos’s parents, Julian and Linda got to know each other through the close knit Lebanese community, and married in 1926. Carlos is the fifth of their six children, and was born in 1940. It seems probable that the young Carlos inherited his entrepreneurial and business sense from his father, as by the time Carlos was born, his father was running a successful grocery and real estate business in Mexico City. Smart investments in up and coming areas formed the basis of Julian Slim Helu’s wealth. Despite the Slim Helu family’s growing fortune, Julian wanted to foster business skills in his children and encouraged them to take an interest in all aspects of the business. At an early age, Carlos and his siblings were taught the basics of commerce, and Carlos made his first investment in bank shares at the tender age of 12.


Education was important to the Slim Helu family, and even though the family were by now comfortably wealthy, Carlos was encouraged to study hard and get a good education.  Carlos’s talents lay in engineering and mathematics, and he studied Engineering at Mexico’s National University. After University, Carlos Slim Helu lost no time in building the foundations of his business empire, and started to invest in property. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Carlos Slim Helu continued his strategy of researching and making clever investments in booming industries, mainly in commercial property, mining and construction.

Economic Crash

By the early 1980s, Carlos Slim Helu was a successful and wealthy man, but had not reached the huge levels of success that he enjoys today. The Mexican economic crash of 1982 was what delivered the opportunity to consolidate his wealth. The economy of Mexico had been built on oil revenue, but in the early 80s the price of oil fell rapidly, leading to a shrinking of the economy, rising interest rates and the devaluing of the Mexican currency, the peso. At this time of great crisis for many companies, Carlos Slim Helu seized the chance to purchase companies at rock bottom prices. He invested in businesses such as Reynolds Aluminium, the Mexican division of General Motors, Hershey’s and British American Tobacco. As the economy began to recover and the share prices of the recently acquired businesses began to rise, Slim Helu used the capital to make a move into the financial services industry too.


By the start of the 1990s, Carlos Slim Helu’s clever and timely investments during the economic downturn were beginning to reap huge dividends. The telecommunications industry was taking off in Mexico at the start of the 1990s and once again, Carlos Slim Helu was in the right place at the right time. He invested in the Mexican national landline telephone company when it was being floated by the government, and soon diversified into cell phone technology. Currently, around 90% of all Mexican landlines and 80% of cell phones are operated by Telmex, owned by the Slim Helu family. The recent economic crash of the late 2000s has left Slim Helu’s fortune largely unaffected, and due to the diversification of his interests and the fact that he is not reliant on one industry only to provide an income, it seems certain that the Slim Helu family will be remaining at the top of the Rich Lists for several years to come.

Other interests

One of the markers of Carlos Slim Helu’s success has been his ability to buy and sell at the correct times. His investments in the downturn of the 1980s were the foundation of his wealth, and throughout the 1990s he continued to sell businesses which were successful then use the return to invest in others which were up and coming. Slim Helu has bought and sold interests in tobacco and cigar manufacturers, retail operations such as Saks and tile companies. His six children, and especially oldest son Carlos, look set to continue their father’s success as they have taken on roles in several of his business interests.

Good causes

Being the world’s richest man gives Carlos Slim Helu the opportunity of not only a lifestyle which most of us can only imagine, but also the chance to make a real difference to the lives of people who are less fortunate. His charitable organization, Fundacion Telmex, was founded in the mid 1990s, and sponsors projects such as the redevelopment of rundown areas in Mexico City, museums and art galleries and investments in sports and grassroots charity projects throughout Latin America. There has been criticism of the wealth of the Slim Helu family in a country where so many are living in extreme poverty, and the charitable works and investment in the future of Mexico goes a long way to counteract this criticism and build a firmer foundation for Mexico’s future prosperity.

Company : 1902 Media