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Mexico's Slim leapfrogs Buffett on rich list

April 12, 2007|Marla Dickerson | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — That was fast.

Mexican telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helu last month blew past U.S. investor Warren Buffett to become the world's second-richest man with an estimated net worth of $53.1 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

Slim was ranked No. 3 on the publication's 2007 list of the world's richest people, released a month ago. But he is making money faster than ink can dry, thanks to rising share prices for his telecom holdings America Movil and Carso Global Telecom.

In an article posted on its website Wednesday, Forbes estimated that Slim added $4.1 billion to his fortune since the publication calculated his net worth in February prior to the list's March 8 release. Forbes said Slim surpassed Buffett's $52.4-billion fortune March 29.

Slim now appears destined to dethrone Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates, who has sat atop the list for a record 13 years and whose wealth is estimated at $56 billion.

Slim first appeared on Forbes' list in 1991, a year after he and a consortium bought a controlling interest in Mexico's old state-owned telephone company, Telmex. But his recent run-up in wealth has been nothing short of stunning. Forbes calculates that he has added $23 billion to his fortune during the last 14 months.

Slim's holdings are so vast that it's nearly impossible for the average Mexican to go a day without spending money on something in his empire, which includes fixed-line telephone service, mobile phones, Internet service, banking, insurance, restaurants, department stores, tobacco products, building supplies and an airline.

Wags have dubbed him "the Mexican Midas." Some Mexicans are thrilled that one of their own ranks among the biggest of the big corporate titans. But his wealth has proven controversial in a nation where half the populace lives in poverty and near-monopolies such as Telmex are blamed for retarding economic growth. Several studies have found that Mexicans pay some of the highest telecom rates in the world, which has hurt the nation's competitiveness.

Slim called a rare news conference after the March release of the Forbes list. Sitting on a dais flanked by Rodin sculptures from his collection, Slim defended his business practices and announced new charitable endeavors. But he appears in no hurry to give away the bulk of his fortune as Gates and Buffett say they will do. He said businessmen could best help society by sticking to their knitting instead of trying to play Santa Claus.

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marla.dickerson@latimes.com

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