MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s Carlos Slim, the son of an immigrant shopkeeper who amassed a $53.5 billion fortune and bought a major stake in the New York Times, became the first person from a developing nation to be named the world’s richest person.
Slim, a telecom magnate, edged out U.S. billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to earn the top spot on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people – the first time a non-American has topped the list since 1994. The jump in position comes following a year in which Slim’s cell phone holdings rebounded in value.
Forbes’ employee Keren Blankfeld said that never before has someone from the developing world earned the top spot.
Arturo Elias Ayub – an executive at Slim’s Telmex telephone company and the billionaire’s son-in-law – expressed satisfaction that a Mexican businessman is now at the top of the list.
“The reaction is one of satisfaction, that this confidence in Mexico exists, and this confidence in our group’s companies,” said Elias Ayub, who frequently acts as Slim’s spokesman.
Slim, 70, is known for wearing inexpensive suits and rarely using the computers his companies sell, preferring old-style paper notebooks. A baseball fan, his indulgences are largely limited to cigars and diet soft drinks.
While he owns – either personally or through his foundations and museums – an impressive collection of art, including works by French sculptor Auguste Rodin, he works out of a set of somewhat dowdy, 1970s-style offices.
A civil engineer by training, he has bought up troubled or government-owned companies of all types, fixed them up and resold them for huge profits.
That kind of thrifty eye for undervalued businesses has served him well, especially after the market downturns in recent years.
“In periods of crisis, he has always invested, and now we are beginning to see the fruits of that,” Elias Ayub said.