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Carlos Slim

Carlos Slim

As part of the BBC World News Horizons series we have visited some very...
As part of the BBC World News Horizons series we have visited some very influential people. We have flown to Seattle to meet Bill Gates, in Chicago we interviewed Richard Branson and in a farmer’s field in the Southern states of the USA we chatted to Howard Buffett.

In this programme have added to our billboard of billionaires an interview with a man who rarely speaks in public and yet is arguably the man with the most influence on any single country in the world. Whilst these things are hard to asses it is rumoured that he controls around 40% of the country’s major companies. The man is Carlos Slim and the country is Mexico.

He entered the Forbes top ten world’s richest people list in 2005, eventually topping it between 2010 and 2013, and has stayed within the top five ever since. His $50bn fortune and vast business empire, influential in every sector of the Mexican economy, makes him Forbes’ 15th most powerful person on the planet.

I had come to meet him to talk about the work of his charitable foundation. His office is in a rather non-descript building in Mexico City alongside a road so filled with traffic it resembles a parking lot more than a highway.

Dark suited men stand by large 4X4 cars near the underground entrance of the building and they quickly move behind pillars as we unloaded our cameras – cautious no doubt about being recorded. After many security checks we are ushered to his office. To get there I passed a corridor filled with art works that wouldn’t have shamed a national art gallery. His own office is dominated by a large heavy wooden desk. Behind it hangs a huge oil painting and on the wall near it, is a framed poem by Khalil Gibran called The Garden of The Prophet.

When you are starting an interview it’s always good to find some point of connection. As it happens I know a little of the work of Gibran and struck up a conversation about the poet and his work.

This particular poem is all about the nature of nationhood. What makes a good country and what makes a bad one. It begins with the lines:

“Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero, and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.” And goes on later to say: “Pity the nation that raises not its voice save when it walks in a funeral, boasts not except among its ruins, and will rebel not save when its neck is laid between the sword and the block.”

In a room which draws one’s eye to the art – there was only one poem. If a man chooses to put a single poem on his wall, it must have some special meaning. The poet Gibran was born in Lebanon, just as Carlos Slim’s father was. And almost before the cameras start rolling Carlos started talking about immigration and the great damage he believes is being done to Mexico as many of its talented youth leave for richer economies.

He spoke passionately about the need to create a better country that people didn’t want to leave:

“What we need is to create opportunities for the people. Well, talking about Mexicans in the US is a pity because we are losing the best Mexicans. The people that emigrate, Mexicans or wherever, is people without any fear, with a lot of courage that go to a new place without the language many times to work hard.

And we are losing them because we are not giving them the opportunities. You need to have social programs looking to create a good health, a good education for some temporal situations to alleviate the problems but you cannot make that forever. You need to give the possibility and the opportunities for people to work.”

Carlos is an unassuming quiet man and I was surprised that he seemed nervous or at least cautious of our interview. But he was welcoming and warm and we had a great afternoon together. Looking at his desk, we noticed the absence of any computer. Asking about it, he told me he writes everything by hand. He has a tablet, he says, but he mainly uses that for games. But when you are one of the world’s richest people – I suppose you need a computer, you have others to use that sort of thing for you.
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