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If you like Carlos Slim's story, you might also like:
Steve Case,
Ray Dalio,
Michael Dell,
Michael Eisner,
Lawrence Ellison,
Bill Gates,
Henry Kravis,
Craig McCaw,
Ted Turner,
Stephen Schwarzman and
Dennis Washington

Related Links:
Carlos Slim's Web Site
Fundación Carso
Grupo Carso

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Carlos Slim
Carlos Slim
Profile of Carlos Slim Biography of Carlos Slim Interview with Carlos Slim Carlos Slim Photo Gallery

Carlos Slim Interview (page: 3 / 9)

Financier and Philanthropist

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  Carlos Slim

Were your parents immigrants to Mexico?

Carlos Slim: My mother was born in Mexico and my father arrived in Mexico when he was 14 years old, in 1902. More than 100 years ago.

Where did he come from?

Carlos Slim: From Lebanon.

Why did he come to Mexico?

Carlos Slim: The Ottoman Empire was very tough with the Christians and I understand that they put them in the army or something like that when they were very young. That's the main reason why they immigrated, the Christian Lebanese. That is, until the finish of the First World War. It was because of the empire that had control of Lebanon.

Being the son of an immigrant, did that affect you in any way?

Carlos Slim: I think everyone is an immigrant. If you go to the glaciation, people moved around every place. There were nomads all around. America, including the Indians that came to America maybe 25 or 30,000 years ago. Everyone is an immigrant in one form or the other. And I think immigrants are very strong people. When you left your country without knowing the language of the other country, without knowing the culture, without knowing where you are going, and you are only 14 years old, you should be very strong and you get stronger with this. I think immigrants in general are very, very hard workers and very strong inside themselves. They should be very strong. I admire immigrants from anywhere.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

When you were growing up did you have heroes? Were there people you looked up to who influenced you?

Carlos Slim: My father was very strong. His personality, his kindness, how he was strong and firm when he needed to be firm. How he was also lovely, a lover. And my mother. I think my father was very important, like I told you, especially because he died. Maybe there were some teachers I admired. Some teachers, some sportsmen that made very strong achievements. I think it was very important. In sports, you have a lot of people that you admire at this age, where you're reading the newspapers. And other people that made achievements, like they want to swim the Channel in Europe. Mainly sportsmen.

When you were growing up, did you think about what you wanted to be?

Carlos Slim: I think I always know that I was going to be a businessman, because I began to invest when I was ten or 12 years old. I began to make my first investments. I opened my checking account and I was already investing very young. I think I knew that.

As a ten or 11-year-old you were already investing?

Carlos Slim: My father would give us five pesos every week, and when you have a birthday or something and they give money to you, you need to make something with that, with your savings, and you can have it physically, but you can also put them in the bank, and I went to the investments. I have, let's say, a surplus of income against my expenses. That means that you have savings and you need to make something with them. Then you begin to think what to do with them and you invest them.

When you went to college, what did you plan to study?

Carlos Slim: That's a good question, because I didn't know what to study. In those days, you made the decision very young. I was 14 years old. I selected engineering, because I liked numbers. I think some people like letters and others like numbers. To some, the letters tell them something. To others, numbers tell you something. I am a man of numbers, from when I was very young, and that's why I selected engineering.

Did you actually become an engineer?

Carlos Slim: Yes, I did. I finished. I have my title of engineering, and I was a teacher in the engineering school where I was studying. I think it's very important for your career. Engineering studies is very important. It was very important for me, because you work with an exact science and experimental science, and that's very important. You know that not everything is exact. You know that science comes from experiments also. In my career it's always been important. I made a construction company. I was involved in a mining company. I'm in telecommunications. Engineering is a very strong basis for business, I think.

But how did you get started on the road to being so incredibly successful as a businessman?

Carlos Slim: Well first, I think the success is not to make money or to have companies or to be an outstanding professional. The success is your life. The success is your family, your friends. In this way I think I have been very successful, because of my sisters, my brothers, and especially because of my family, my children, my wife, and my friends. I think that's really success.

Professionally, I studied, like I told you, engineering, but I liked economy, and when I was in the last years I was thinking to study some economy. Actually, when I finished I took courses in economy. Three months at first, and then another three months in Chile. I went to study there. And I think that when you have the vocation -- it's difficult to find people with a very, very strong vocation only for one thing. I have curiosity for many things. I have interests for many things. When you study engineering, I studied some economy. I decided to take, when I was 24, a sabbatical year, to look at what I was going to do. To think, to travel, after I studied economy and I made my engineer career. And in '65 I began to be involved in business. From the beginning I was involved in many businesses. I bought a bottling company. I make an investment firm, a construction company, real estate company, and I begin with five or six different areas of work. And I believe I understand that there's a confusion between the businessman -- the entrepreneur -- the executives and the investors. There are three different persons. But in the small business, regularly the same person makes the three things. It is the investor, it is the businessman -- the entrepreneur -- and the executive, the CEO. I was very clear that CEO and businessman is different, and the investors are different. And as much as I followed my career, I worked with executives. My work like a businessman was to work with executives, with CEOs, to make them develop these capabilities.

During this sabbatical year, you took time off to think about what you wanted to do with your life. Is that correct?

Carlos Slim Interview Photo
Carlos Slim: In some ways, and in other ways -- not to relax completely -- but to have a compromise. To be free to think, to travel, to read. I came to New York and I went to the Library of the New York Stock Exchange by myself to look at the books and archives. And I went to Europe. Traveling, studying, reading and thinking.

Did something happen during that year that led you down this road?

Carlos Slim: The only thing that happened is that I met the woman that was going to be my wife, but there was no changes because of this year in my life.

What was your first venture? Once you started acquiring companies, how did you get started?

Carlos Slim: I bought, with my brother, a bottling company of soft drinks in two states, Morenos and Guerrero. I formed a construction company with a classmate. And I made an investment firm at the same time, in '65, and a real estate company also.

It's said that you have this unusual ability to look at a company or a business that is not doing well, to see that it is undervalued, to acquire that company and make it profitable. Is this something that is instinctive? Is it something that you learn from experience? Is it something that you learned as a student? How do you account for this ability?

Carlos Slim: We look at potential development of the company. To buy it at a low price and in bad condition, it makes it easier. But the good thing is the potential of the company. How far it can go. How far you can develop the company. I think more than the instinct, it's knowledge. Look at the numbers. Like I told you, numbers talk. You look at the numbers, you look at what they're doing. And we have a philosophy of working that makes these things not very difficult, because when you work with austerity, sobriety and you invest in equipment and you reinvest. There are, I think, some basic rules. Nothing magic. Only basic rules to find out which are the conditions of the company and help to change them. But what is clear also for me is that you can do it very fast. You can do it very fast and the faster you do that, the best it is for the business, for the company, for the people involved, to make that. No? Well, you need to work in the whole area, not only finance, not to look only at one area. You need to look at labor, your treatment with people. You need to look that the people should be feeling good in the work they are doing, to be motivated to be there, to have the spirit to be in the company. And you look also at sales. You look at production. You look at finance. You need to look at the whole company and arrange the areas where things are doing bad.

Let's say one example. In some companies, you have a lot of levels of management. Many levels are not working for the operation. They have quarters far from the operation. Corporations, the corporation is outside the operation. We work without corporative people. We focus an operation. We take down as many levels as we can, to make the highest level be near the operation. With practice and experience we make a team that is very efficient, and we do that very fast.

I think it is not instinct. It's experience that you can learn, because it's not done only by me. It's all the team, and the organization is very big. We have nearly 200,000 people working in the group, and we have a lot of young men doing these kinds of jobs. That takes basic rules of management to do that, no? You read a lot of books -- how they do, what they do bad, what they do good, the conglomerates of the '60s, the way they managed. The biographies of some people and what they do, and you can take the good things from them. Not everything, no. And the experience -- you can, I think, have experience from the failures of others and your failures, no? And what we do when we are managing business is that we all need to take decisions, but we try to do small mistakes. We are very, very open to small mistakes. A big mistake is very dangerous. A very big mistake is bad, but small mistakes make the people trained, and they learn how to take decisions and move ahead.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Do you see yourself as a risk taker? Is it important in life to be willing to take a risk?

Carlos Slim: In my opinion, I never take risks. Maybe small risks, but I think I am not a risk taker. I think I am very conservative. All my life I have been very conservative. Maybe my challenges were not economic or financial, but professional. We took on very strong challenges, but the big risk was not economic, it was professional, not to fail in these big challenges.

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This page last revised on Apr 06, 2012 14:46 EDT
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