Slim a maverick tycoon in Mexico's business elite

Mon Mar 15, 2010 11:44am EDT
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By Noel Randewich

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Carlos Slim, the world's richest man according to Forbes, has created hundreds of thousands of jobs in Mexico, but he also is seen to typify a business elite that amassed fortunes by exploiting the poor.

Slim, whose Telmex and America Movil companies dominate Mexico's telephone industry and have helped him build a $53.5 billion fortune, was named the world's wealthiest tycoon by the business magazine last week.

In a country where homes made of sheet metal and cardboard sit in the shadows of flashy apartment buildings, Slim, 70, personifies the yawning gap between Mexico's small wealthy class and its millions of impoverished residents.

"He owns Telmex, he's the owner of all of Mexico. It's very ironic that as a country we don't have the same economic growth," said Veronica Delgado, an architect shopping at one of Slim's gift stores in a well-to-do Mexico City neighborhood.

Like many developing nations, Mexico suffers from a weak education system, shoddy healthcare services, rampant corruption and a shortage of high-quality jobs. One in five Mexicans does not earn enough to eat properly, and half of all adults never progress beyond primary school.

But Mexico also boasts a significant upper class that drives flashy sports cars, lives in swank neighborhoods and sends its children to the United States to be educated.

The gap between rich and poor is wider in Mexico than in more developed countries like the United States and Canada, although it has narrowed slightly over the past decade, according to data from the World Bank and United Nations.

While Mexicans joke that it is impossible to go a day without paying Slim, his companies have grown over decades to employ 270,000 people, including 35,000 jobs created last year as the economy battled the worst recession since the 1930s.   Continued...

<p>Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman (L) shakes hands with Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim of Lebanese origin as he offers him a medal after their meeting at the Presidential palace in Baabda, near Beirut March 12, 2010. REUTERS/Dalati Nohra/Handout</p>