This past Saturday the Wall Street Journal wrote a cover story called “The Secrets of the World’s Richest Man.” And no, it wasn’t about Bill Gates. It’s now estimated that the one-company Microsoft man is no longer a match for the greatest robber baron in history: Mexico’s Carlos Slim.
If you’ve been to Mexico, you’ve paid Carlos Slim whether you knew it or not, most notably any time you made a phone call. No, a phone call shouldn’t cost 45 cents a minute to the U.S. from there, but that’s what happens when there’s a monopoly. He also gets a piece of nearly every mobile phone call and Internet hookup. That’s just the start though.
“It’s hard to spend a day in Mexico and not put money in his pocket. The 67-year-old tycoon controls more than 200 companies — he says he’s “lost count” — in telecommunications, cigarettes, construction, mining, bicycles, soft-drinks, airlines, hotels, railways, banking and printing. In all, his companies account for more than a third of the total value of Mexico’s leading stock market index, while his fortune represents 7% of the country’s annual economic output. (At his height, John D. Rockefeller’s wealth was equal to 2.5% of U.S. gross domestic product.)”
But hey, you’ve got to admire someone who can become the world’s richest man by building and buying companies in a country that’s not a first-world economy, monopolies or not.
If you do get tired of overpaying for phone calls in Mexico, there is a way out. Sign up for a SkypeOut account and make your phone calls from Internet cafes. Nearly all of them have a headset with a microphone by each computer and you can phone away for pennies a minute.