Carlos Slim Interview
Financier and Philanthropist

December 2, 2007
Washington, D.C.

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Do you think Latin America can learn from China?
Carlos Slim: I think each country has its own conditions. A country with one billion people is different than a country with one million. A country with so much population has a big domestic economy and will be the main issue to manage. India and maybe Brazil and Mexico. But I think each country has its own situation and its own step (pace) of development that is different, but what is clear is that everyone will -- should learn from China, from Korea, but mostly learn from them to have clear education. Go from the alphabetization (literacy) to the "intel alphabetization" (computer literacy). Not to teach "A, B, C, D," but the convergence, connectivity, and modern education. Middle and superior education levels and strong, strong work, strong in education, very strong in education and science, technology, engineering, all this. Richelieu, at the first part of 17th century, said you need to support the mechanical arts. No? Mechanical education. I think now it is very important to teach about all these issues -- without taking out humanism (the humanities) -- and this education, and create jobs and create activity, economic activity, investment, reinvestment.

You've been quoted as saying that "the key to the future is the Internet."
Carlos Slim: Not exactly. I like to know about history, the history of my country. But I'm also interested in the universe, astrophysics, in the origin of the universe, the origin of man, and the development of man.
If you look at the development of man, from five million years or six million years (ago) to now, the different times, and how it begins only 10,000 years to find the agriculture and the civilization, and how the civilization is so near, so short term, and how the civilization has developed, for me it is very clear, the new civilization that we are living in, after the agricultural civilization, the industrial civilization. In this new civilization -- the good thing of this new civilization -- is that the welfare of people is what gives the success of this society. In the agricultural civilization, the men make the exploitation of the men and the land. That's why they were slaves and they were not nobility. And like you born, you live all your life in the same place and in the same social way. And the power was monolithic, with political power, economic power, military power and religious power all together. The emperor came from the divinity, the pharaoh came from the divinity, the monarchy came from the divinity, all worked together. The same in Mexico as in China, Japan or any place. That was monolithic, the power. With the new civilization, from the industry, from the industrial civilization, it changed completely. The paradigms are very different. And the paradigms are democracy, liberty, plurality, human rights, environment, globalization, competence. The good thing is that before, you exploit the raw materials, the land, and the people. Slavery was not an accident, it was part of the paradigm of the civilization. But in the new civilization, poverty is not business like before. You need to have people with income. You need to have people involved in the new economy, with time to relax and look at entertainment and other areas. Well then, the future of the civilization is there.
I think the government should have a clear vision of this new civilization, because the best investment is to fight poverty. The best investment is to fight poverty. In the past, it was ethical and moral and social justice, but now it is an economic need. A country like U.S., that they say is a consumption economy, consumption population, is not a consumption population. It's a welfare population. That's what should be done all around the world. Maybe a Third World War -- how you say it -- against poverty. It's clear for me that it will come, and people will be out of poverty, and for that you need education. You need education and education. What we need in our countries is development, employment and education. That's clear. It's not Internet. It is this. And as much as you have people with income and with employment and better income and better employment, you will have better markets, bigger markets. That's what's very important for the governments to look at, because there will be many bottlenecks in the future. Energy is one, but we will have many bottlenecks, because the poor people of the world -- like China, India, Latin America -- will get involved in the market, and sooner than what we wait. That means that they should be conducted, these changes. These transformations should be conducted. That is not Internet. It's all this in the future.

Is it important for someone in business to understand history?
Carlos Slim: Very important. I think so, in two ways. First, if you're in business you need to understand the environment. You need to have a vision of the future, and for that you need to know the past. That is very important. But also, on the personal side. A businessman cannot be only business. You need to have more interests. Life offers a lot of interests, many things to know, to learn, to feel, to live.

Could you tell us a little bit about your early life, growing up? Were you a city boy or a country boy?
Carlos Slim: The city. All my life in the city, in Mexico City.

What was your childhood like in Mexico City?
Carlos Slim: I enjoyed it a lot. In the first years I went to a very small school. I had kindergarten two blocks from my home. We were five in my class, and the park was just in front. We'd play in the park and I enjoyed my first years a lot. All my years, but especially when I was a child. I enjoyed it a lot, with many friends. A very good family -- my father and my mother. I have five brothers and sisters. And I studied in small schools all my life until I finished half of the secondary school. That's your high school. Instead of high school, we have three years of secondary school after primary, and then two years of preparatory, and five years of college. Then I went to the National University. That's one of the biggest universities in the world. More than 300,000 students there.

When you were growing up, were you a good student?
Carlos Slim: It's interesting. Some years I was very good and some years no. In some subjects I was very good and in others I was very bad, but in secondary I was very good. In primary and in college I was very good in some subjects. I was very good in my second year and the third year. In the fourth or fifth year I was thinking of a change of career but I began to give classes, like a professor in the university, when I was in third year.

What were you interested in as a child?
Carlos Slim: I liked to play. I liked numbers. My father was a businessman, and he'd go off to his business, the commerce, and he tried to teach us how to work when we were very young. Maybe eight years, ten years old. I liked some sports, to look at some of them, or to play with groups like baseball or football, basketball. We had a park in front and we played with our neighbors. Sometimes in those times there were no cars and you could play baseball in the street. We used to play it in the park. American football and baseball. I was the youngest of the group. Nearly the youngest.

What was difficult for you, growing up?
Carlos Slim: It was difficult when my father died. My father died when I was 13 and I had difficult times. Maybe two years. It was adolescence and it was also the death of my father. Very difficult times for me.

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.

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: 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.

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