You are on page 1of 16

profiles

slim’s time
Who is Carlos Slim, and does he want the paper of record?

by lawrence wright

W hen the credit window suddenly
slammed shut last fall, the New
York Times Company found itself with
creditor and was poised to become one of
its largest stockholders—after members of
the Ochs-Sulzberger clan, which has con-
two hundred companies; those which are
publicly traded in Mexico account for
about forty per cent of the country’s main
a four-hundred-million-dollar line of trolled the Times since 1896. stock-market index. Nearly every day,
financing scheduled to expire in May, A Times correspondent who covered nearly every Mexican contributes some-
and no obvious way to raise the money. Mexico for the paper was stunned when thing to the Slim cash box. Slim is also one
Advertising revenue at the Times was he heard that the company had been of Mexico’s largest private employers. He
tumbling, as it was at every American bailed out by a man he considered an owns Sanborns, which is both the major
newspaper, and the company was servic- exemplar of Mexico’s crony capitalism. retail outlet in the country and its largest
ing $1.1 billion in debt, which was more “Slim is the consummate monopolist,” restaurant chain. His portfolio contains
than the business was worth. Standard & the reporter said. “Does being embroiled Inbursa, one of Mexico’s most prominent
Poor’s had reduced the company’s credit in a business culture of back-scratching banks; Volaris, an airline; a mining com-
rating to below investment-grade status, and unseen forces make him a great pany; the Mexican branch of Sears; con-
making it difficult for the paper to secure partner for the Times? I don’t think so.” struction and insurance companies; a
new financing. While Times reporters In modern history, no one has domi- financial group; five hotels; a bottling
were chronicling the implosion of some nated a major economy as overwhelm- company; a cigarette manufacturer; and
of the country’s most significant broker- ingly as Carlos Slim does that of Mex- much valuable real estate. Any of these en-
ages, banks, mortgage lenders, and insur- ico—a country of a hundred and ten terprises would have made Carlos Slim a
ance companies, their own institution million citizens, in which the per-capita wealthy man, but the foundation of his
seemed to be on the verge of collapse. income is little more than ten thousand empire is the telecommunications com-
In October, 2008, Chris Wood, a rep- dollars. In August, 2007, Eduardo Porter, pany Telmex, which he acquired in 1990,
resentative of SunTrust, an Atlanta bank a member of the Times editorial board, when Mexico began privatizing its na-
that had loaned about eighty million dol- wrote on the Op-Ed page, “Growing up tional industries. Ten years later, Slim
lars to the Times, approached Inbursa, a in Mexico City, I always knew Mexico spun off a cell-phone business, América
bank in Mexico City that belongs to Car- was an unjust country—a place where Móvil, which is now the third-largest
los Slim Helú, a Mexican businessman small coteries of the privileged control all company in Latin America.
who is sometimes ranked as the richest power and wealth while half the popula- “When Carlos Slim started climbing
man in the world. A month earlier, Slim tion lives in poverty. But it never occurred on the Forbes list, I began doing my own
had taken a substantial position in the to me that Mexico would have billion- math,” Eduardo García, a publisher in
Times Company. Wood asked Slim if he aires.” Porter was referring to a report in Mexico City, told me. In 2005, when
would lend the company two hundred Forbes that listed, among the world’s nine Forbes ranked Slim as the world’s fourth-
million dollars. Discussions went on until hundred and forty-six billionaires, ten richest man, García—who writes a col-
Thanksgiving, when an informal agree- Mexicans, including Slim, and to an arti- umn called “Slim Watch” in Sentido
ment was reached. The terms were oner- cle in Fortune that named him the world’s Común, an online magazine he edits—
ous: the loan was for six years, at an inter- richest man, worth, at the time, fifty-nine was able to find ten billion dollars more in
est rate of fourteen per cent—essentially, billion dollars—equivalent to five per cent assets than Forbes had reported. In March,
the going rate for a junk bond—and it of Mexico’s total annual production of 2007, García declared that Slim had
came with limitations on incurring further goods and services. Comparing Slim to moved into first place, ahead of Bill Gates
debt. But the negotiations hadn’t focussed the robber barons of America’s Gilded by a billion dollars. Reuters ran a news
on the interest rate; instead, they had cen- Age, Porter observed, “It takes about nine item about Slim being the world’s richest
tered on Slim’s demand for millions of of the captains of industry and finance of man, and the Wall Street Journal covered
dollars in stock-purchase warrants, which the 19th and early 20th centuries”—he the story. (According to Forbes, Slim is
could dramatically increase his ownership listed John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius now third, behind Gates and Warren
stake in the company. The Times Com- Vanderbilt, John J. Astor, Andrew Carne­ Buffett, as the worth of all three men has
pany agreed to award Slim warrants on gie, Alexander Stewart, Frederick Weyer- diminished. Forbes calculates that Slim is
15.9 million shares if he raised the loan haeuser, Jay Gould, and Marshall Field— currently worth thirty-five billion dollars,
amount to two hundred and fifty million “to replicate the footprint that Mr. Slim five billion less than Gates.)
BARRY BLITT

dollars. The deal was finally signed in Jan- has left on Mexico.” To many Mexicans, Slim’s wealth is a
uary. Slim became the company’s largest Slim and his heirs control more than matter of pride. In a recent poll, Slim,
52 THE NEW YORKER, JUNE 1, 2009

no one has dominated a major economy as overwhelmingly as Carlos Slim does that of Mexico.In modern history. .

and says that he doesn’t know how to me a page.” Another newspa- nopoly practices. where he was sur- ico City told me. He doesn’t have much of a social that he’s a bully. The other view is the dining room. he established the Museo governor of the State of Mexico. he punched a number on the speakerphone on the dining table the personal scandals that periodically called that. “Nobody else did that. The food comes from Sanborns— leading newspapers told me. Enrique Peña Nieto. financing of elections.. his reputation was tainted by his he owns it. Julián and his brother get out of business. an El Greco in paper columnist. A lthough Carlos Slim has often been described as a merciless pred- ator. a television talk-show host and a news- man. which attracts him be.” Slim said. His fa. It was getting erages of the stars of the Negro leagues. vider. calling it “my the most popular prospective candidate widower. Sergio Sarmiento. he wears damage to Mexico. died in B. Three years many jobs have they created?” he added. He professes to be indifferent to the suits off the rack from Sears—he owns The publisher of one of Mexico’s politics of those he works with. In the it. life. in any case. Telmex owns “He invested during the revolution. Slim is difficult to catego. which rounded by Impressionist paintings the country about Slim. he publishes rhapsodic ar. called the Oriental Star. Slim has lived in an unpre. Julián. there ance sheets that he was poring over. imagination. Lebanese. “He decided he would Mexican among the top two hundred in script. he would pull out a Slim called for the ledger books from is not a lavish spender. We don’t association with Carlos Salinas de Gor. his cause of his passion for statistics. joined his after column of numbers.” later. An acquaintance of Slim’s re- At one point when I was visiting Slim’s office. the 1999. room containing a desk. He runs his companies very well. The immigrants came seek­ing eyes were narrow and wary. Soumaya. religious freedom—the Slims were Mar­ long-standing caution about talking to He can recall obscure statistics.” he wrote in 1999. the art: Murillo’s “Inmaculada Concep. the making of leg. But to whom now work for their father. “He’s a with very little excess. and he had a hole be the world’s richest man comes from dollars from each of them. whenever Slim came to an that serves as his desk. arrived in the port of ico City office.who shuns politics. and he showed seven years. “Sí. but he is also a brilliant business. who was originally I met with Slim recently in his Mex. but ory. “The love of City in 1911—as the Mexican Revolu- done for the country. He doesn’t attend fashion are. One reporter remembers interviewing A prominent investment banker in Mex. doesn’t have a good sense of humor. at the age of fourteen. shy. scendants of Arab immigrants. When we have lunch. the strongest man wins. in tiny his father’s store. at the age of twenty-six. On being confronted looked like a squalid backroom deal. named after his wife—Slim is many other Mexicans Slim represents showed me his home office—a small thought of as something of a parvenu. an Internet service pro. “If society were to tell me to speak on a limitless diamond: of mem. and he have a single case where we have a busi. Slim told me. few moments later.) He Soumaya. “The rules nineties. His Slim is a man of few pastimes. In Mexico. all of tion—in 1994.”) Despite his extensive art collec- for President. especially squared-off mustache. written in Julián’s elegant 54 THE NEW YORKER. with the observations of his critics. They had six children. it named Khalil Slim.” A U.” the man always be in Mexico.” anese village of Jezzine. a retail business.” Salinas set up a fund for independent Slim’s father. he These days. given his fortune. an Aeron chair. said of him. with the Sotheby’s lot numbers still is that he has taken advantage of our sys. and his face was glazed with per. spill onto the front pages of Mexican economics lecture or a party for a for. “The numbers In what now appears to be a charac- spiration. As we talked. changed his name to Julián. ción” in the living room. mind is once again at play. he has never been caught in one of stand as a kind of rebuke to the image that Mexicans typically have of their oli- garchs. what is wrong with the Mexican system.B. one of his nephews official told me. The view I hold was the size of a Manhattan hotel room.” clobbering Chapultepec neighborhood. and he’s done enormous Politically. (He does carry a BlackBerry. great leader Mexico needs. loner. And. we had been sitting together for Occasionally. events. apart are now hundreds of thousands of de- hair is the color of wire. his wife. he eign political figure. “I don’t have having travelled by himself from the Leb- scarcely looked up from a pile of bal­. “I had dinner the proposition that someone who could dinner. how they hate me!” Slim’s nationalism. hours. (He is a though. tem. tari. the tion was getting under way. reflecting a vorite team is the New York Yankees.” Slim explained. and bought out his brother’s share in the his relatively modest personal habits store.” rize.” of a very poor country. wealth who doesn’t have a home in the said. Veracruz in 1902. and bookshelves filled with histories and Slim in his office. “Oh. who weary from the strain of reading column strikeouts per inning or the batting av. I would do it. He nessman in jail for price fixing or mo. the now disgraced former President. José opened a general store in Mexico please ask my critics what they have ends. newspapers. It’s difficult to defend other wealthy Mexican businessmen to per publisher told me. Khalil. and solicited twenty-five million with him one night.” a former Mexican government Prodigy MSN. who had established late. Ingeniero?” a voice said. yet Slim doesn’t have a computer came in with the ledgers. For the past thirty. ticles about the sport. Slim told me in his shirtsleeve that you could put your what should be a highly regulated sector that the donations were intended to help fist through. which he loves. With Microsoft.S. and he has a from baseball. Salinas once invited Slim and two dozen likes to watch sports. “He is the only black notebook and make notes. his humility. He’s a lousy speaker. two older brothers. such as onite Christians—or fleeing the draft the press—or perhaps they were simply Sandy Koufax’s minimum number of of the Ottoman Empire. business with any politicians. “How the game has a new beginning. 2009 . JUNE 1. “There are two views in biographies—and his bedroom. was designated “the tentious house in the capital’s Lomas de use one. The only extravagance in the house was pasted on the frames. teristic Slim move.

his expression. but Julián had accu. by the popularity of television that was ten-per-cent interest. part. A maxim that Julián liked to re. from November 3. He decided to be. in 1953. Un- turn on his deposit. “I stayed in my home for two years. the fifth of six children of Julián 1955. mulated more than half a million pesos’ the Catholic school he attended. He was a diabetic. He withdrew the letters and others that are good for num. operate as semi-monopolies.” This became a credo of and went to work for a prominent firm the classified-advertising base.” Julián Slim may have felt a particular urgency in imparting these lessons to his children. nearly every money and began buying savings bonds. he had a second heart attack and died. Carlos first board meeting—of a mining com. class—and he continued making invest. He stopped going to movies and parties. sources—a Slim specialty. Slim was devas- tated. and began to trim his nails. you go with nothing. whose parents thirty-two thousand. his balance sheet showed a net worth of fifty-five hundred pesos.” Slim began emerging from his de. Re- families. Although he is still ment stores consolidated and advertised times are good if you work in the right way. He used toothpicks to show pesos.” On another occa- sion. but I and performed so well that he was news—tended to leave only one paper found it was 7. from that era capture a striking gravity in even before the current recession struck. He was a good student—he as El Ingeniero—the Engineer—he re- or fled the country. his calculate the optimum allocation of re. Great Depression. the basic sales model for print media peat was: “Money that leaves the busi. “Marsha!” . pers began buying prime downtown lots week. Linda Helú. Before worth of merchandise. he reached across the table and picked up a pair of clippers. “You get angry because of what happened. In what may prove to be a histori- father gave each of the children a sav. by August of 1957. even dipping into the school fees headed to New York. His thoughts drifted. The bonds were supposed come an engineer. showed me the framed diploma from alized that his ambitions lay elsewhere. He was a handsome young man. tion. major city had competitive daily news- for ten pesos. Newspa- personal income and expenses every formed a student investment club.” he recalled. requir. At the end of the day. daily journalism suddenly ings book. but consolidation—caused. 1940. and began going over their published a thesis on the subject. at the age of sixty-five. “I asked to teach his fellow-students lin­. “Any personal cri- sis—you have to use it to get stronger. Most of the surviving discovered compound interest. Carlos Slim was born on January 28. til the nineteen-seventies. and real noted that he was at the top of his the next chapter began. that “you can break one. which is often used to papers were left in an enviable situa- In 1952. “I was a tough kid. bers. He stressed the value of strong ing each member to put up a few hundred and building glassy office towers. price regulation and are thought by their that he wasn’t getting a big enough re. by that pression when he entered high school. known to his employees and his friends date.” Slim said he learned from his fa- ther that “you are only a temporary manager of wealth. but you cannot friendly and popular. Slim completed his studies in 1961 began falling apart: Craigslist destroyed ness evaporates. two months before the Wall ments. “I thought tional Autonomous University of Mexico. in each market. Street crash plunged the world into the that his mother provided.) He also became a lucrative enterprise. “There are people who are good for customers to have no substitute. or what and his wife. he told me. franchises”—they offer necessary prod- opened a checking account when he was pany that he was interested in—when ucts or services that are not subject to only ten years old. stock. But. and he 1929. papers. like telephone companies in Mexico. In January. He entered the Na. and quickly realized he was still a teen-ager. depart- Slim’s future empire.17.” ear programming. and had al- ready survived one heart attack. in his office. which he often fiddled with as we were talking. porters were paid a reasonable wage.” Slim re. Julián sold the store in August.” Slim observed.” he said. He attended his Warren Buffett has labelled “economic were Lebanese immigrants. nearly two million people had died in 1955. Another was: “All in Mexico City. which and he abandoned engineering. break all of them together. in to double in value in ten years.” he remembered. called. he decided to estate. 1919. it had grown to nearly M ost newspapers in America. take a year off. (He eventually cal anomaly. but photographs which was also unprecedented. when Carlos was twelve. It was 1964.hand.

as the Bancroft family eventually if the Times went bankrupt he would lion.) “That’s capital they really wish they did. and he’s totally about the eco- tribution of news the norm. The Times sent Welch a letter say- ing that the Globe was not for sale. In 2006. why. “If this was Rupert • • Murdoch or Sumner Redstone or Mi- chael Eisner or David Geffen. or you want to have the same pride that the Sulzbergers have in own- ing the New York Times. Owners with the loan. and two partners expressed interest in buying the Globe. said. the search engine About. which holds eighty-nine per the company’s leading creditor. a billion Company stock. 2009 .4 bil. “We were saying.” the writer cent of the Class B shares of Times be difficult for anyone to take over the said. Arthur Sulzberger. The writer told me recently over dinner. “You want it because you can change it ideo- logically. Times Times Company board told me.com. and the Times has threatened to shut it down.” that transcends economic value. JUNE 1. to turn itself into a true national newspa. He could become one of the worth less than the price of the Sunday icies of the paper. and sixteen newspapers. ple were dubious. The Bos- ton daily is now losing more than fifty million dollars a year.” a Times clan’s control over the newspaper. “Why would anybody want it?” the writer said. they bought the Boston Globe. “The Company stock is divided into two tiers: stock subsequently slid from fifteen dumbest thing for the company was to Class A. ‘Oh. would ever be tempted paper without his involvement. reportedly for six hundred million dol- lars.” That was during the by the Ochs-Sulzberger family. Carlos. baffled about Slim’s motivation.” (In fact. you would say.” the writer. “It is astounding that the Times would do that. I get this. tial portion of the company’s available nomics.’ But this is less.. (the father of the current publisher.1 billion for the Globe. who has known Sulzberger. To protect the Ochs-Sulzberger ‘This guy is crazy. held largely stock-purchase warrants that came thirties and forties. Then. a minority stake in the company that owns the Boston Red Sox. Sr. to sell. Welch’s proposed price was more than half the current market value of the en- tire Times Company. and dollars. when Murdoch came shopping for 56 THE NEW YORKER. “Investment bankers probably the family. in addition to being paper. which includes the radio station WQXR. for several years. the figure is $1. the highest price ever for an American newspaper. which can be bought on the dollars to six. “The smartest thing the paper did was the great mystery of this play. thereby determining the pol- Times.’ ” an adviser to the per. like. Jack Welch. Jr.” The writer went on. Slim lost millions. “That is re- ally very disturbing. and the Internet made the free dis. It would talked the company into it. “Management spent. if so.” It’s not clear if Slim wants to control the Times. presumably be entitled to a substan.” In 1993. I asked the writer if main stockholders. of course. placed him in early two thousands. and Class B. It has a value “We need to talk—let’s have conversation No. The buy back its own stock when it was in the open market. with the very best Web site. and. “That’s in the Times last year many smart peo. of Class B stock elect seventy per cent of an advantageous position with the one share of Times Company stock was the board. 52A. The night we talked.” The writer admitted to being And so when Slim began investing assets.). not count- ing the Globe and the Times. whose chairman at the time was Arthur Sulz- berger. the former head of General Electric. however. Jr. had now.” he said. the Times Company. paid $1.

Upon receiving a one that might have solved its financial tourist destination. pressured the management to eliminate the two-tier stock system. time had the Mexican license for Marl- out the Times and take it private. when Inflation was out of control all over the Geffen learned of the pending loan world. who controlled ten place could go bankrupt. when the moon would be a the cash equivalent. significant purchase was the cigarette ministration. has ever found them. ner and Sulzberger and offered to make Mexico devalued the peso. after the Sulzberger family. He visited the a bottling company. Slim had begun to see signs berger while he took over management Then he was off again. Know. zine. Hassan El. he called both Ratt. At When Slim married. Mexico. The hedge fund Har- C arlos Slim was twenty-four years old when he arrived in New York. said to me in mid-May. where he particularly en. By 1981. Geffen said on several key sectors of the Mexican and dividends are how the Sulzbergers that he would pay market price for the economy. in the summer of 1964. there is “an excess of excess. and she critical ingredient for amassing a for- proposal. nearly twenty per cent of the company’s which had a rotating auditorium. when Slim was making his initial Liberty. and elegant. including its sale. Oil prices were falling. then the wealth- bers. and while he was home he met the six. Harbinger’s stake in the Times. “I was tune: steady cash flow.. which But at the same time he was preparing “But the stock is now way down. slender. be.) According to sources teen-year-old daughter of one of his moth. He “A lot of people have looked for company. people really are thinking this age of twenty-four. JUNE 1. Before a crisis. and he enjoyed going to casinos. without success. called Steven Rattner. earning his first million at the masry. He and Soumaya occupied the ber. but that hasn’t got Harbinger any Futurama. offered to buy him a house—a family closer to running the paper.” year older. Paul Getty. company among them—but his most automobile bailout for the Obama Ad. but Harbinger reportedly wanted In 1965. and incorporated a real-estate business. eventually placing the Germany. he observed.. and would make him the largest shareholder his next move—a kind of surprise attack the company suspended the dividend. 1982. how it works. World’s Fair. In 2007. a close friend of himself in its library. Geffen the New York Stock Exchange. But in April Times employees were in. Geffen declined.” paper in the hands of a nonprofit foun. saying that he preferred Slim. was deeply dation. nesses—a copper mine and a printing porter. and he went again and again to ninth floor and rented out the other investment in the company. million pesos from his mother. his mother stock.” the writer said. his father’s village in Lebanon. and nobody Geffen and asked if he wanted to buy los. the Times had resisted erator. causing it to the same deal.” business decisions on the part of the know how to deal with it. but by the end of 1965 he had million shares of Class A Times Com. Sulzberger. He was reportedly also worried the country was defaulting on its foreign THE NEW YORKER. and the assent of six of them would formed of a five-per-cent pay cut. a major oil producer. 2009 57 . Slim was already a based in London. The word “Carso” comes from the first binger Capital Partners forced two can. During his month. manufacturer Cigatam. value. acquired pany stock. Cigatam provided Slim with a ing that the Sulzbergers would resist his Lebanese-immigrant families. and capital from Carlos Slim. Geffen offered to buy er’s friends. Rattner presented the idea to in debt but swimming in petrodollars. about Geffen’s ambition to take over the known for its beautiful waterfalls. The decimated newsrooms all over America. Slim says. had written for be required to approve structural changes afterward. which at the close to both men. Be Rich”—a collection of the advice col- family trust is overseen by eight mem. In February. the Secretary of Fi- cause he already held a large stake in the nance and Public Credit announced that paper. Citibank approached toured the ruins in Baalbeck and Byb- cracks inside that family. very impressed. would leave the editorial side to Sulz. whom he wed in April of 1966. Jr. moving chairs took fairgoers into the custom. In Septem. “There’s a tivate a “millionaire mentality. was the child of two prominent boros. “I went from pockets. in particular “How to would face a formidable challenge. fled the country. Soumaya Domit Ge. long trip. letters of his name and that of Soumaya. of the business. Soon iest man in the U. a Morgan Stanley fund manager time. a hundred employees were Playboy.” a steep premium. being an investor to being mainly an op- Even if there were dissidents in the Until recently. of economic catastrophe. Geffen suggested that he was cultured. didates onto the board after acquiring joyed General Electric’s Progressland. the General Motors exhibit.” Slim recalled. York Public Library and the Statue of City. Sulzberger turned Geffen lose more than seventy per cent of its down. he built a problems—came from David Geffen. they making the sort of staff cuts that have ature on business.” he says.” which he hasn’t kept away suitors. Inmobiliaria Carso.” He had read some popular liter- family who wanted to sell the paper. “For the first oil fields. umns that J. in August. many of whom growing sense that the company is really described as being “always and above all have criticized what they perceive as poor hitting a wall and management doesn’t cost-conscious and profit-minded. and Spain. (Rattner is now managing the Slim returned to Mexico in August. who don’t work put money in their stock. to France. The girl.Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal. mayel. Slim also visited the New twelve-story condominium in Mexico the entertainment mogul. Slim said that he would prefer The most serious bid for the Times— year 2024.’s and a former Times re. who rejected it.S. Then. burying apartments.” the writer Getty made his fortune as a wildcatter in Times management. In May. He visited Jez. That fired from the business side. “I wanted to see Slim continued acquiring busi- Arthur. Getty urged his readers to cul- to the company. established a brokerage house.

Such newspapers. to actually be the New York Times. in ownership would be highly trau- dollars. or Hearst. The tion. some kind of transformation.” Keller said. is is to conduct a survey of people who don’t thur Sulzberger. the Times was negotiating tion of newspapers in general and the bar. “I’m a calculated op- The typical Sanborns is considerably “The old building was cramped and ill. “These were the best times ever. I’ve lived Many Times employees have begun lion and a half dollars. “Nobody wanted to buy anything turbulence to remake the company. had been national.” He recalls picking with the reality that we are headed toward to wonder how long the Ochs-Sulz- up forty-three per cent of a Firestone sub. home. It was bankrupt.” (Of course. ‘What would the newsroom intact. as the energy taken over by chains. lauded the efforts that Ar- ico.” a Times business reporter ing in Anderson Clayton. Other companies were being sold Times is not as dependent on classified ad.” berger family can hold on. We were profile those people. “We’ve taken some hits. There’s a crying demand for smaller than a Wal-Mart. Who are they? The newspaper. The Times’ ap- proach was to go find our most loyal readers—who say they couldn’t live with- ning to write. Rich says. he said. photographers. it lost $74.” “We bought a paper company for a mil. paratus was out there looking for people there will always be a demand for “qual- 58 THE NEW YORKER. even at the Times. “People wanted to sell not only their floors housing its offices. lars. the Times colum- he says. at fifty-eight pesos a share. to define ourselves demographically. One of the major banks in the ing opportunities.” In the current downturn. dollars. which had hundred and seventy-five million dol. dred and fifty million. or folded into corporations ized and forced to divest some of its the Times made the ambitious decision to where the news is a small part of a larger holdings. a bakery. tion is cash. 2009 . describes as “a story about who want what we’re doing. a As we talked. bankruptcy in ten months. “It supply of it. toiletries. Keller said.” He told me that since taking his fortune. and the Times sold that building in 2004. the Times had focussed on in the first quarter. ists today. He says that he paid fifty-five days as an editor. “The journalistic institutions and everyone wanted to sell.” Frank Rich. How we get the demand to pens. but still man. editors. That company alone. It was a sound business proposi- In 1982. for a profit of three hun. but also their companies. allowing for more advertis. “Any change sidiary for a hundred and forty thousand Like Carlos Slim. there have been sev- eral occasions when people were saying ‘Woe is the New York Times. which its architect. dollar skyscraper at Forty-first Street geographically. a six-hundred-million. There is to sell a portion of its new headquarters Times in particular. he has never been comic strip—whatever it was that the asked by Sulzberger what he was plan- I “ n my lifetime. with the option “A year or two. olds Aluminum. they go and add the advice column or the current post. A few and Web producers. it multiplied it. Most other American papers have been purchase. months later. Although the Times won five Pulit- American businesses began pulling out of Unlike many struggling American papers. contrast to the paper’s grubby former slogan.) Friedman said that and Eighth Avenue. Keller nist. told me. In 1980. timist. told me recently. it paid a sixty-five-peso div. and Slim acquired a package of publish a national edition. .” Keller recalled. and toys. for two hundred and twenty-five million “How much time do you have to “The year 1983 was crazy. JUNE 1. Slim says that he began invest. cards. they’ve million dollars for the package—“a lot of to me the marketing strategy of the been hollowed out.” ico’s debt crisis. “The crucial ques- sidiaries. a diminishing ages to sell clothing. .” pay for the supply is the existential ques- DVDs. in 1995. says. newspapers do when they want to expand columnist.” The “If you told me we’re going to file for idend. “To be able to say what I want to say and go where I want Bill Keller.. read their paper and ask. Slim says.’ ” nonreader said he wanted. has made to keep today worth eleven billion dollars. mitted.” Slim re. “In my early enterprise. “What most man. The people you need sets can only take you so far. I’d find that for one or two per cent of their book value. “I just tern was emerging. what we do and. ginning to go through. in the Web site is roughly equivalent to once been his father’s major competi. the Times’ chief foreign-affairs the insurance company Seguros de Méx. three years later. Jr. but. sadly. in the midst of Mex. jewelry.” Keller said. suited to the reinvention that we were be. Speaking about the future of the twenty-five stores around the country. on West Forty-third Street. mid-seventies the paper began publishing erally those run by founding families. vertising as local papers.” of repurchasing the space in ten years. plausible.” also a separate chain of Sanborns cafés.” noted that during the recession of the that remain truly independent are gen- In August. such as Gannett country. and a pharmacy. was not a pleasant place to come to work. The com- nothing to do with Mexico.” ment has exploited periods of economic matic.” Thomas Fried- money for those times”—which included Times. Times. General Tire. Sanborns now has a hundred and sold it again. Bold action in the make you like our paper better? What have a great deal of admiration for face of a crisis didn’t just add to Slim’s could we change to appeal to you?’ Then him. magazines. Bancomer. Slim made an important four sections. crisis was provoking another downturn.5 million Mexico and dumping their Mexican sub. saying. for a “the energy and money we have invested iconic Sanborns retail chain. and has a restaurant. books. graphic artists. Slim went transparency and lightness”—quite a mitment to solid journalism wasn’t just a shopping. Keller ad. they read it every day—and to to go—other than a Sulzberger-owned newspaper. In some cases. and lease back the twenty-one figure it out?” calls. electronics. or how high his travel ex- penses would be.” He added. protecting its newsroom—“the reporters. A pat. securities. Investors wanted Renzo Piano.debts. which sold cot. I had someone explain “lose ambition. zer Prizes this year. he bought shares in Reyn. you tell me where that ex- sitting in the cafeteria of the Times’ new strategy was to find more people like that. star reporters headquarters. the Times manage. 1984. investments . “Cutting costs and selling as- ton gins. the executive editor of the out it. The whole marketing ap. Keller said.” tor. the new owners those decisions. not like Friedman live in a special universe.

.

Slim’s “We’re watching this happen in Phila. People had to wait years to get zation of Telmex helped create the berger family. especially in communications in. nopoly on long-distance calls for six $1.” however. even reckless. An orches- Minneapolis. and the few carriers that existed cause of his ties to Salinas. years. Under the terms of the deal. including the archaic phone company. often topped by coiled main. but they come with me. “Yes. He invested thirty billion dollars in infrastructure and laid “Last tweet?” thousands of miles of fibre-optic cable. which was carrying armed bodyguards. but the gov.” A similar story is taking place in to be one of the most precious business razor wire or electric fences. I observed. three years later. when the gov. tral version of “Unchained Melody” the Times files for Chapter Eleven. Bloom­berg. and not others. In that case. “The privati- hope it’s a junior partner to the Sulz. Carlos Sali. he said. If concessions ever awarded. case the company’s fate would be largely at a little more than three billion dollars. Slim’s cousin Alfredo Harp Helú was kidnapped. .76 billion. they don’t want to emerge as owners. but he has been dogged noting that the Inquirer was in bank. Slim shrugged. He established the Telmex Institute of Technology to re- train his employees. Slim put together I asked the business reporter if bank. by foreign debt. with the Star-Tribune. the houses were hidden be- rent owners and management will re. In September. obsolete copper lines. ment. ernment offered the future owners a mo. bidding for Telmex. when the sale finally and the Wall Street Journal and not a lot took place.” he said. (In 1994.” Friedman proposed a a telephone line. the company had been valued news organizations is going to be ex. and France Telecom. in which Telmex. gesturing to the car behind us. economy was stagnant and overwhelmed There were two main competitors who has his own news empire.U. I just I n 1990. for delphia right now. The Mexican and Public Credit told me. in his keep the paper in the family.4 per cent of Telmex vot- period to reorganize without being market. branded news that people can trust.” the reporter replied. saw privatization as an story as we drove across town. pany jumped to more than eight billion dollars. management would have a businesses that could compete in a global was selling 20. a team that included Southwestern Bell ruptcy might be a tactic that Sulzberger frastructure. The President. and seven thousand telephone operators whose jobs had been made superfluous by direct dialling. Cell phones were still a novelty in for years by the rumor that he won be- ruptcy proceedings. given Mexico’s high car- jacking and kidnapping rates.” he said. both men “the creditors have made it clear that generally had licenses for certain regions strongly dispute the charge. the market value of the com- more. Friedman said. Telmex did not ing stock with an option for five per cent preyed upon by outside speculators. attracting the attention of inter- national investment firms. how­ever. He mollified the union by awarding the workers stock.” a candidate—“someone with the ethics rarely worked.” the mayor of New York.V. team submitted the highest bid. he was released after the family paid a thirty-million-dollar ran- som. At first glance. its creditors may well see it as ernment announced its intention to sell but he believes that the shakeout of an opportunity for change. “A few years ago. seem like much of a prize. Mexico. The fact that Slim drives himself is seen as eccentric. into the deal a cellular license that cov. The government tossed We were riding along hilly residen- There’s every expectation that the cur. during opportunity to create strong Mexican black Ford S. Telmex came encumbered by a pow- erful union. 1989. he agreed that no one would be fired.) I asked Slim if he felt safe on the road. Telmex. It sorely needed invest. we didn’t need to have anyone. and large parts of the former Mexican Secretary of Finance and journalistic integrity of Michael country were unconnected. “The government bankruptcy. ered the entire country. the few public phones whole category of emerging markets.” Slim says. “Half of the people there were not necessary.ity. He recounted the would employ in a desperate attempt to nas de Gortari. played on the CD player. This turned out hind high walls.” At some point. of non-voting stock.” he said. It wasn’t an army. treme: “It’s going to be us and the BBC in the hands of Carlos Slim. the Times is “probably going to need a partner of one kind or another. tial streets. the Mexican government began privatizing national industries.

that the Mexican executive branch would concept was to go to the customer. We simply didn’t ness. “In the telephone busi.” hire a good lawyer.S. now has nearly two hundred mil. He recalls. He was the a potential death blow to Telmex. Carlos comes into telecom with a hypercompetitive. The Times telecom companies in the world.” he says. “The in Carlos Slim’s conference room. “He was a zealot on this. “The peso the Clinton Administration.” he the time. “We were all value.” a competitor told me. sultant to the government during the Slim. then set • • prices based on your cost. tion rate to the dollar. T.O. he facto monopoly we created before it be- that Slim eventually spun off. “You have very few opportunities in life where it is just grow. which might be out of reach for billion. América began pegging Telmex’s interconnec. and says you’ve got the government loosened control of the they had little effect.” Stephenson says. and again facing a debt crisis. Most petitiveness. privatizing Telmex as a monopoly to gain decided to place low-cost telephones in teresting. effectively passing During the peso crisis in 1995. accompanied Fried- THE NEW YORKER. “It was really exciting. I said.’ ” At be strong enough and competent enough wait for the customer to come to you. We should have known better. The cell-phone company from the peso crisis: as a hedge. Newell recalls. were in pesos. along with In the late nineties. came too large to stop.. the to price these services to really penetrate peso.” Ste- phenson says.” Stephenson says of Slim. Telmex was investing about to push back if the monopoly got out of says. just as Gillette to cut back to six hundred million dollars. there was no longer a waiting list for people wanting to get a telephone line.” Slim told him that such a plan would never work in Latin America.” he says. and an aver. “Around the world. volume is more important than Slim learned one important lesson have the guns on board to face the de- price. 2009 61 .” When Stephenson arrived in Mexico.” Slim’s office. tele. JUNE 1. ment didn’t even have the resources to mobile phones. tors of the Mexican economy and gain makes its profit from the blades. Telmex turned handsets. grow. one of Telmex’s partners. In December. there were only twenty thousand wireless subscribers in the country. capitalistic mentality. the ca.2 Instead. he says.By 1993. & T. Would you like to speak with his portrait?” com has evolved as a monopoly business. but bureau at the time.” Stephenson says. a think tank. “But. and its value slid by forty per cent— head of the Mexican Institute for Com- and achieve deep demand. the Mexican govern- first company to pair calling cards with bold. who is now the C. recalls. grow. to offset Telmex’s increasing power. ernment began establishing regulations him. and making money off me.” Stephenson. acted as a con- first to really challenge our thinking. subsidizing the cost of proposed cutting expenditures to $1. Friedman reported from Mexico on the age monthly revenue of ten dollars per “It’s been an incredible windfall for fifty-billion-dollar bailout sponsored by subscriber. razors. It is one of the most profitable him. “That felt pretty aggressive to into “an enormous cash cow. per month. who was in the currency reserves. “He’s in a meeting right now. by golly.E. twenty dollars was more realistic. Mexico was once the past six months alone. who had learned something about ble—were in dollars. we were getting seventy dol- lars per subscriber. Thomas lion users in Latin America. On a dime. Anthony DePalma. Stephenson hand.” Móvil. not the “The thought that you could scale down lopsided market shares. model in Mexico: “In the U.” which gave many Mexicans. “He’s proba- bly the most intelligent businessman I’ve met. sent a young executive from Oklahoma named Randall Stephenson to work with Slim in 1992. we made the wrong assumption— discount and convenience stores. many of the correspondents got to know a high deficit and a lack of foreign. but its revenues privatization of Telmex. Newell contends.S. we did it. on Paseo de Las Palmas. He expected to implement the U.” the Gillette plan. 1994. the cost of devaluation on to his rivals. has been devalued by thirty per cent in bureau in Mexico City was next door to In the mid-nineties.. “In marketing from his cigarette business. where you look at your cost. Slim believes that Telmex was the the spending levels that far was really “In the fiscal crisis. of A.” of its expenses—the cell phones. He also came up with what he calls two billion dollars a year. Southwestern Bell. “That’s when it got real in. not ‘We’ve got to cut capital spending. Slim said that he was going Slim the leverage to wade into other sec- pre-paid calling cards. the Mexican gov. Roberto Newell.

He had a red ballpoint pen and made tiny annotations on the page as we talked. “We’re good friends. observed offhandedly. “It wasn’t the kind of thing he says. “Peru. 2009 . dred-per-cent growth! Do you think vited us to his mother’s house. is now the fifth- his guests a chair that he broke when he Noor of Jordan. the government. for lunch—chicken mole. which.” he conceded. noting that said. He mained overwhelmingly dominant. “It’s a great story to see him as a rob. a car- I’ve ever seen.” former President pants leg to show off some scabs on his Slim turned into the gated driveway Salinas. another car that of these businesses is a monopoly. among others. maybe eighty per cent of the population of Latin America has a mo- bile telephone. has long resisted sharing S lim turned the S.4-per- cent market penetration in 2004. Slim’s Museo Soumaya owns three hundred Rodin sculptures—the largest collection outside France. and he was as subject of women. “He wasn’t yet the richest The historian Enrique Krauze had pale-blue shirt. “But I also re. Krauze said. was a child. according to learned to drive. “We are the ones that nerves. Strictly speaking.” member him as being a little starry-eyed by plastic cover. Ford Crown Victoria. had a small red circle around it. but I also no- ticed an Elvis compilation CD. catered by San.” largest mobile operator in the country. JUNE 1. Three-hun- man to an interview with Slim. “The numbers.” sleeves of his discreetly monogrammed Palma recalls.” DePalma says. “My kids gave it to me. speaker dock. a its network with competitors. named for the moun- tain range near his father’s village ing room.” Slim explained that the report showed the market penetration of mobile-telephone services around the world.’ ” created monopolies. over time. that’s bad for Mexico?” He rolled up the which he keeps as a kind of museum. In Argentina and Brazil. He drew a line • • under Mexico.” Slim said.V. seventy-two per cent of the Mexican cell- the remarkable Lebanese community in ing analysis.” He went on. who left office in 1994. ‘I must stay rational or I’m going to common wisdom is that privatization he’d got banged up on the trip.” DePalma said.” etration in Canada. was like an Arabian princess—a woman Slim’s monopoly on long-distance borns—and Slim held forth on Clinton with an angelic voice and manner and calls in Mexico ended in January. in Polanco.. “She’s very short. He showed the reporters an unforgettable smile. the garage was a 1941 Cadillac under a pened after my administration ended. TracFone. “The he had taken with his sons. I noticed.” he Telmex still owns about ninety per cent being that close to the New York Times. The men sat down him to talk about. the numbers you’d do unless you’re really tied up with The loss of his wife is still too painful for told a similar story. Slim grinned. In “But nobody ever looked at what hap- ber baron.” We went into the din.” he said—a figure well above the sixty-five-per-cent market pen- “Something is definitely going on. of a house that he uses as an office. “What are you seeing when you look at that?” I asked. drawing man in the world.” said.” Slim insisted on showing with several women. “Soumy understand pre-paid the best. and the bailout. but the actress Salma Hayek—“one of the Slim used to drive. where he often holds meet- ings. “Today.6 per cent last year. His music preferences lean toward easy listening. We’re back to eating dog food. but he certainly was the told me that Slim is “playful” on the another line.S. It’s unlikely that he will remarry. 1997. which includes. “He brags a bit.” had increased from 8. onto Monte Líbano Street. she’s sensual. “I but his telecommunication companies re- some photographs of a recent rafting trip saw Carlos a few days after she died.” De. Slim has been linked to 61. a book about handwrit. including Queen rier he owns in the U. even though it is legally obligated to do so. Slim quickly lost himself in a Merrill Lynch report. The Telmex spinoff América Móvil controls in Lebanon.” he said. “It’s like the car I had when I of Mexico’s phone lines and. On the dining-room table was a wilted bouquet from the garden. and a plastic replica of a phone market.U. There was a bronze miniature of Rodin’s “The Kiss” on top of a cluttered cabinet. “Slim in.5. shin. “She’s sexy.” I iPod that was connected to a small privilege”—operating at a competitive 62 THE NEW YORKER. neither Mexico. told me. he lifted his lose my mind. they talk to me. We began talking about moldy lemon. and now it has grown to 80.6 per cent in 2002 bowled over by meeting Tom as anybody Since his wife died. there market penetration richest man in Mexico. “We had only 26. He turned on an both exist as what Salinas calls “islands of most beautiful women in the world.

they have grown fifty per cent a year. itors have also been threatened with est and most expensive of its mem- And yet that is true of nearly every key legal charges. City. Móvil. he regulators and Telmex lawyers engaged this. Ohara said. “I don’t the resolution. “We created an incredible legal had been directly threatened by Slim’s THE NEW YORKER. “In 2003.” the newly elected President. government for the reselling scheme. ber states. In 2005. you nomic growth and business development. ever since Slim took control of it. in Mexico.” But he admitted. put the minister and me in jail. “It even took actions to voice transmission. One of Slim’s telecom ri. Telmex’s headquarters.” he said. industry in Mexico. Slim denies controls hundreds of companies. and their actual value is factory floor. created a culture of fear that has para. who is currently saddled with these humongous costs. and moral. Rafael del for telecom lay in broadband communi. a court ruled against the com. “We obtained more avoid—and none of the men wanted to than two hundred injunctions. a power within itself that can influence have no incentive to spend their capi­- oly. the chief executive of each com- style wrestling: there was a lot of excit. the president of that monopolies. customers. Because tional mobile-phone service in Mex. aged. rates for landline and mobile calls. “Since then. a telecom provider in Mexico are the country’s main obstacles to eco.” Investment is discour- monopolies. the company filed Many of them go back to his father’s nearly half a billion dollars in gross a formal complaint against América lessons. “Totally amoral. creating a huge loss for ples that form his business philosophy.” (Of the men who have monopolies in electricity.. “People like Slim don’t seem to agree which in 2007 published a study of the ecutives who had to leave the country that monopolies or oligopolies hurt the slow-growing Mexican economy. I had lunch with a group of Mexican businessmen. told me. that could be paid for in installments on contrast with the majestic Telefónica munications and Transport. doesn’t have a corporate headquarters. Slim blames Telefónica for its naïveté. who was then Under-Secretary cations. however. asserts for a while to avoid an arrest warrant country. Despite the Even Slim’s adversaries admire his “Telmex fought this resolution bitterly. for instance. and beer—and so companies are and the costs of natural gas and fuel oil are Francisco Gil Díaz. the company made Telefónica. criticized the tactics of Slim’s compa­.C. That’s why Mexican workers are These industries are government nies at a meeting in Washington last paid so little. and we’ve grown ninety per cent. did something bad. Electric.” the law. O ne afternoon. Im- vent Téllez and Villar from enforcing forty-three per cent of the market. Slim began selling computers Formica desks are still in use. among the highest in the world. “They know he’s going to beat the crap to charge a very high interconnection proach of selling highly subsidized out of them. it attempted to attract new industry where Slim is. Another rule relates to In 2006. along with his puters.S. as a small Mexican businessman is sala- than it does in the U. vals told me. tors. They’ve M. be quoted by name.” rate—the charge that one carrier bills handsets. the Secretary of Com. ment was not the company’s goal.” Benito Ohara. both public and private. companies—it was nearly impossible to ing enforcement. “The last elsewhere in Latin America. because monopolies singles out Telmex as “a private monop.advantage that makes it nearly impossible and procedural mess. water. The World Bank. Many of the government-issue of Communications. the World Bank report year.” fact that Telmex lines were set up for purposefulness and the ways in which Villar told me.) A former Telmex lawyer told me that the company’s legal strategy was to challenge every decision that the regu- cording to the Organization for Eco- nomic Coöperation and Development. it was clear that the frontier been in the same cinder-block building telecom sector.” Telmex compet. the administration of sixty dollars. thereby delay­.” he tal. radio. he has become the leading Times Building. “I know of at least two ex. in 2002.”) bread. Although Slim For more than a decade. but few Mexicans owned com. steel. thing anybody wants is to invest in an Telmex controls nearly all the landlines ico. All had done business with Slim or his latory agencies made. for that matter. in a battle that resembled Mexican free. 2009 63 .” Roberto Newell acknowledges that it attempted to pre. by his own tower across town—or the gorgeous that Telmex slash its interconnec­tion calculations. That year.M.” noting that its telephone charges and block policies to its advantage. television.” Ohara added. “When you are selling handsets at pany remains near the sales force or the ing action. The first principle is to keep cor- profits on interconnection charges. but says that imprison. perhaps. made a push to reform the By 2000. we had forty-two. typically.” he says. In 2008. to fight entrenched interests. nineteen Villar. claiming that it was responsible porate structures simple. “We have a state within the state. JUNE 1. Mexico is one of the worst countries in left the country Slim says.” tually. I’m just fascinated by his competence. “Here in Mexico. but an investigation is ongoing. the world in terms of competitiveness. “He’s ruthless. that Telmex got from a judge. One claimed that he yer said. Felipe of dealers repackaging them. demanded the monthly telephone bill. Slim has wrested the his companies embody his character. computer dealer in Mexico. no. but nothing much happened. Luis Téllez. there are going to be a lot “maintaining austerity in good times. Mexico’s broadband is one of the slow- for other companies to gain market share. has Calderón. even. the cable companies had said. ries. years ago. It’s a pointed boss.” Ac- pany. “Maybe they transportation. lyzed the industry. But the handsets were swept Slim has compiled a list of ten princi- another to complete a call to one of its up and resold. it has historically been able customers with the now familiar ap. and potential investors don’t want are significantly higher than those said. the head of the Mexican division of The only line item that you can control ity costs as much as sixty per cent more Telefónica. the Spanish telecom giant. yes.” (Telmex broadband market from his competi. When Telefónica launched a na. twenty dollars. know whether to love him or hate him.

” Villar. Even Mexican regulators recognized filed for bankruptcy in 2007.” television network. one day the system becomes a product gether. the dis- estate value. and her husband sleeps on the veranda. had a memory. between Slim and President Calderón. and now he has forty per cent of the and we were once them.” knew feelings. “He’s run.” tinction between telecommunications company with a very good brand. and he went to Saks.” and the coming of night. or more of the company. “He Or a koala that climbed up a four-poster bed bought into Brazil at just the right time. but says A “domesticated bearded dragon $400” that it would have happened only if the is not my idea of an animal companion. however. in a statesman. the computer retail chain. Slim had ac­ corrupt. “making long. mex privatization. the government would offer Slim lete and actually worked against the a Mexican columnist told me. which is good news for compe­ omy. shopping in New York.” By They are all extremely inefficient and controlled Televisa. The two entities were considered company.” The other men smiled. convened a secret meeting world.” surprising a seventeen-year-old in her nightie. and Internet service providers to offer voice. thumping the floor. data. there is a fierce contest between cable.S. an unauthorized bypass. Since then. D. tition. If We. Telmex was cumulated twenty-five million shares. for a major purchase. business was using microwave links as A calf asleep on a double bed.employees: “Two guys came to my busi- ness and said that if we didn’t take down our microwave link Telmex was going to The Animals cut all our telecommunications. A former Slim employee said. knowing A neighbor sleeps with a wombat in her bed. “Slim was or ask what was to come.” vice. “Until too powerful to be allowed to mix to- of the stock was lower than the real. “It’s ridiculous to say that Slim is prohibited from offering television ser. He calcu- lated that the stock was valued at a frac. “He has to tor to increased competition.” turn. “Televisa feels I asked the men if they held Slim re.L. 2009 .S. “It was a good of him. the government was sioner at the Federal Telecommunications 64 THE NEW YORKER. something that he desperately wanted— competitive business environment that ning out of things in Mexico to buy. Many of my lunch companions mar. “He bought into Argentina right after the 2001 cri. ago from the Mexican government. what this really meant: Slim went shop. In part.” Slim says. Under the original terms of the Tel­ menaced by Slim’s entrance into televi- sponsible for the faltering Mexican econ. Same story in Colom. USA. At the time. satellite. Many heads nodded. Luis Téllez. perhaps.” television. which would open the communications sec.” another man said. who worth! So he put in an order to buy. velled at Slim’s business instincts.”) crouched under a mahogany sideboard. that the Telmex restriction was obso- turn elsewhere to make his investments. footage of the building. They were here before us—the animals— sis. the Mexican executive tomers—what is known in the industry not the first time that he had ventured mansion. the company was sion. who is now a commis- responsible for Mexico not growing. mobile business. who got free rides and went bust. Téllez hoped that the govern. Saks renewed a “poison pill” provision that prevents any share- holder from acquiring twenty per cent I n March of last year. He ment and Slim could. it’s brilliant.. Telmex into the U. “But this country is full of people exchanged sounds and visual cues.” the but did not know banker observed. or a hare with long ears distance a local call. (“It was clear that the price the system. “He registered the changing of seasons just used the free ride he got twenty years and dew on leaves that brushed our flanks.” In Mexico. work out a grand plan that den to enter the fray. All over the That month.”) and television has blurred. is the only telephone company forbid- had been a principal investor in Comp­ like manner. Brilliant. ping for Saks. you call that brilliant. the animals. the Secretary of Communications and Transport. what came before The banker then recalled. Wasn’t Slim merely a product of set up to act as a counterweight to Tele- amounting to seventeen per cent of the the Mexican system? “He is a product of visa. Mexico’s leading the end of November. as the “triple play.” (Slim doesn’t remember the incident. an investment banker said. JUNE 1. Emilio Azcárraga. “The public-sector more frightened of another rapacious tion of what the building alone was monopolies are much more problematic. Without understanding we watched the sunrise bia. then he called a friend and asked about the value of real estate on Fifth Avenue. Mexican titan. they had hoped to create. “He estimated the square Kangaroos watch TV through her sitting-room window. and television packages to their cus- Slim’s entanglement with Saks was at Los Pinos. in re. one man offered.

They were surprised to guys don’t like each other.K. diminished investment in updating bought a monopoly and has turned man. Bill came home after a fortnight away. and prepared set of terms. and another son-in. Until then.” she and in the bathroom. told me. but he still can’t deliver it him- We were once them. “sooner rather than later. If you want us to divide it into two parts. who runs been tried in the U. nerd” in school. and the result was to frame the case against him.’ ” He added. whose efforts to bring the President had to ask them to settle the Mexican consumer has one of the Telmex to heel can seem evangelical. & T. but first we have to agree on a actly that: “I said. want.” she said. That will change. “Mexico is a place he agreed to these concessions far ex. The President sat in the bend ticipants wrangled. and now are their custodians. sell Telmex. los Slim. Slim denies that he said ex. When she returned to Mexico City. down. Slim invited Dresser to his office for a los Slim.” if the composition of the milk isn’t right. team argued. She sat down at the dining-room cluded reasonable interconnection fees.. who is Slim’s spokes. two fax lines. including rates in Mexico were competitive with highly negative articles about Slim his son Carlos. T. “He law. JUNE 1. such an approach had criticized in public. D enise Dresser is a writer and a pro- fessor of political science at the Autonomous Technological Institute Potted plants had been kicked off the veranda. Villar. On the other side of the table equipment. Arturo Elías. worst. discover that in Mexico such a plan cost The meeting at Los Pinos took place In response. “You would ex- THE NEW YORKER. in 2002. and they helped América Móvil. two cellular phones—that they had had Commission. O. “I’d like a glass of min- the Telmex infrastructure. of such grace. “I’m happy these ceeded the value of the entire television in Los Angeles. around a large U-shaped table. who is the C.” Villar said. scribes herself as having been “the top A tractor winched the body out. ‘Tell me what you meeting. On one figures suggesting that interconnection Dresser began writing a series of side were Slim and his team. Villar. 2009 65 . Slim’s team presented three times as much. notes. self.” They know we are different and their eyes tell us to keep our promise.” she says. According to three participants.S. The terms in. Car. through a com- as you collect mail from the gate at dusk. Dresser and her husband —Geoffrey Lehmann set up the same telecommunications system—four landlines. The with a can of water. Dresser’s articles his son-in-law Danny Hajj. the par­ newspaper Reforma.K. it into an empire. With shy brown eyes Slim quickly found a way for Telmex to they hop along beside you offer television service. three parts. up of A. and returned to her homeland chairs were overturned. Dresser is slight and precise. Despite the government’s opposition. his nephew Héctor ing up the Telmex infrastructure. and elimi. and one of the country’s there was an awful smell. “So much led me back to Car- wedged against the washbasin. She was nervous. eral years studying and working in Los Inside the house Angeles.” business in Mexico. a pony. The meeting ended in a stalemate. table. Jr. “I started studying why the papers and cushions trampled on floors. “The only thing we will not do is destroy Bottle-fed joeys get osteoporosis Telmex. Slim had rarely been Slim. he assured me. of Mexico. If you want me to sell. in 2005. Slim’s omy. to the point that Slim has the best deal in the world. Slim was so angry that he threatened to After a dozen such attacks appeared. Mexican economy doesn’t grow. of Telmex. She spent sev- and the front door was ajar. and two expert wit. who runs the family those of other countries. eral water with ice. shocked many readers. The females make better companions.” her putrid flesh held together by hide. Dresser was put revenue that Slim’s empire would lose if off by his informality.. sharing thing to drink.O. best-known columnists. mercial agreement with a satellite-dish provider. O. but of the U. As for open. after the break­. He disap- nating the practice of rounding up the peared into the kitchen and returned charge for a call to the next minute. she de- Twinkle. told me. For two and a half hours. “We’re going to let you into TV.” she wrote in the were Téllez. and his effect on the Mexican econ­- holding company. Slim asked if she would like some- reducing long-distance costs.” presented the government’s demands.E. “Carlos nesses.

on ciga- rette sales for its funding. She went over her points. become “the Bill Gates of Mexico. thanks to his efforts.” ment. he told her. In 2004. In 2000.” telling him that he had become the the Telmex Foundation. prostitutes.” Slim summarized. “He didn’t understand the to public schools. “You don’t like me. rather than being a bottleneck? more than twenty-seven billion dollars tion. “When he shoved those Slim had already founded several forts didn’t impress Dresser. and addicts. you want me to give away mar. which had never recovered from the 1985 earthquake. in part. shops and businesses had abandoned the neighborhood. committed petty crimes. Slim immedi. In March. The competition and the high cost of tele.” she said.” hundred million dollars aimed at re- peted perfectly well in other countries. . Fif- teen years of corrupt and feckless gov- ernment oversight had left the area des- olate and dangerous. and then he dren. I wanted to cry.” Slim said. and the Carlos Slim Foundation.” she said. “The mere fact of its being ately softened. affiliated with the pop star Sha- “You understand numbers. Some of Slim’s donations do have the appearance of self-interest. Slim negotiated a deal with the govern- ment: Cigatam and other cigarette com- panies would give the Health Ministry nine cents for every cigarette pack they sold. he also supports more than a services were too expensive. walked her to the door. This was to go to public-health programs for tobacco-related illnesses. Slim’s response illustrates his approach to social welfare. The lack of said. . They can make the other. but the pie will be bigger for every. by giving away a sizable portion of his ducing poverty in Latin America. paid for nearly four hundred thousand business. and two Dresser pulled out her notes. leaving it to thieves. have rather diffuse mandates. Many beautiful sixteenth-century buildings were heav- ily damaged. She “So.” thousand pairs of eyeglasses. although he gives back with one hand does not ‘Don’t speak to me that way! I’m not admitted to me. Carlos Slim Foundation has pledged. in Mexico. As is typical of a Slim develop- “Sometimes I get the feeling your ex is still in the picture. charitable organizations. “It was as if he had never thousand scholarships. Gates has donated a hundred and ten million to a founda- ico. .” Aside from his art museum. . one. . Dresser still wasn’t According to Dresser. But those ef- ish. seventy-eight your pictures. This placed the ministry in the awkward position of depending. hundred thousand soccer teams.” heard these arguments before.’ ” he has created the Telmex Foundation lars’ worth of stock.” she says. He com. That arrange- ment has since been shelved.” she surgeries. I said. charitable foundations six billion dol- best for Mexico.” she recalls. “I don’t believe in compare with what he has taken with your wife or your daughter or your charities too much.) Slim and Dresser talked past kira. as he dumped a pile each other for two hours. a ress and inhibiting innovation. he has pro- “So.” emblematic figure of crony capitalism vided a hundred thousand computers “I don’t really know you. “You look thinner than term. I want the pie to grow. “I respect you. “Maybe your slice will be smaller.pect a glass on a platter with a napkin. federal and local authori­- ties asked Slim to undertake the reno­ vation of Mexico City’s historic down- town. and so why not foster competition in Mex. which he then offered to his employees at low rents. “What he papers at me. He bought a number of properties and retrofitted them as apartments. communications were blocking prog­.” out impoverished prisoners who have “I didn’t expect him to be so boor. that helps Latin-American chil- you?” Slim asked. but its “No. it was employee! I’m a Mexican citizen with you popular .” she said. the renovations were not elabo- . hundred thousand bicycles. but you don’t solve any announced that Slim was giving his rights! And I came to talk about what is problems. and has said to Slim that Telmex was a modern ket share. (To date. which mollified. nearly two hundred then added. Slim has also set up a fund to bail of documents in front of her. don’t to charity. Through tied to his business ventures seems an example of his small spirit. wealth.” Then she appealed to him to through Bill Clinton’s foundation.

emphasizing that he did not banks through the public sector.” he says. you talk to Larry Summers before you go. on digit figures in unemployment. and al. though.” He expected double- outfit. gages for first-time home buyers. “Credit is the con- I nside the gated house. He declined to tact with the real economy. According pand his empire during the downturn. with a significantly had invested in the Times. ago. economy. as did Slim’s bank account. the Ameri. “The best you used in 2003. Slim did speak to Summers. “to and children and grandchildren.” When I pressed him to credit!” he exclaimed. could be managed has become a hard the journalism business. He had just turned sixty- discuss what he would do if the paper declared bankruptcy. Slim crash. When the elsewhere. along with or five per cent between Octo- Houston to have a heart valve replaced.” he said. especially on mort- nine.’ ”—the price-to- tion of his many enterprises. really happy. a hundred or so other prominent ber of 2008 and September of “It was not an emergency. “There are more Chap- after the surgery the new valve ruptured. Reserve dropped interest rates from 6. Like the Sulzbergers. President Obama this crisis. because we need your advice. City was then in the midst of the If the problems are as dire as “They gave me a hundred and thirty swine-flu epidemic. Slim repeatedly said that he stabilize the financial system. but not can government failed to adjust its fis­. to Enrique Krauze. Seen in important. Instead of himself in a familiar spot: putting his wasn’t interested in producing content. govern. . paper that Slim had died of a heart at. who is the director of the National Eco. not the Monday night. “What was a crisis that Times is a bet on the long-term value of admitted.  THE NEW YORKER. he refused to ac- knowledge the possibility. including two wars. 2009 67 .5 mobile telecommunications network. economy will shrink by four In October. as one of the few major news said—“a bad one. and was surrounded by his friends say more on the record about the Times. greater market share.” he says. ing. In the During my most recent visit avoid the social consequences of photographs. using Restaurants and coffee houses and jazz intend to be the future owner of the convertible bonds or preferred stocks. I would have done that fifty years back to normal. he would give more support to debtors.) long career. The content will be more cal policies. Meanwhile. sources in English. he was wearing an Elvis to Mexico.” I asked him if he read the boom in the stock market and in real. with the crisis. told me that “this crisis is the same one as recalled. Tourists returned. Property values in. neither the Bush our new civilization.. he hosts dinner for his tech-stock bubble. “If I wanted to buy a newspa­­. then Slim may find tions. and on weekends they created a major slump in the American cheap. “I think con- Before investing in the Times.S. Soon. JUNE 1. economy improved. ganization of American States. he sponded with the right incentives to cope it will. an advantage over competitors who are We think paper will disappear. which is essential. Obama said to Slim. Investing now will give him brand. Every 2000 and 2001. he is taking ad- about the surgery.rate. “Only when I’m in the U.” In our conversa. he said. . “Make sure add more than thirty thousand jobs this momentarily plunged. creased.” vestments. While we were going through the per cent in 2001 to zero in 2008.) ‘How do you decide on your invest- linquished control over the daily opera.” The Federal ing investments in Latin America’s 3G themselves. “I said.” The bursting of the profit. but nor the Obama Administration re. I asked Slim why he Administration cut taxes and increased sis. .’ ” He is often gather to watch sports on televi. but since his heart operation he has re.E. but they were tasteful. If you buy something because it’s extended clan. at a time when few businesses in Slim’s children were already in posi. We believe in media content. but six weeks later Obama asked Slim to visit him the next vantage of his cash-rich business to ex- there was a report in a Mexican news­ time he was in Washington. or anywhere else. concentrating now on real-estate devel- sion. was also at the event. prompting an unsustainable liquidity to exploit the situation. whenever it ends.” he estate prices. New Times.” clubs sprang up. Few people knew Slim’s family was affected by the illness. tent and information are important for bought a portion of the British com. I invest for the long term. He stayed in had not yet been identified. then the economic cri- bags of blood. “We think it’s spending.” Next. followed by 9/11. he earnings ratio—“ ‘or the assets?’ ” Slim to think. ments? Is it the P. the Slims ment had “used all its resources to stop opment and infrastructure. Don’t make me get involved in “Credit. and on mak- clearly intend to keep their empire to that. “My job is though what he said to him is private. attended a dinner in 2009. he said.” he said. (Nobody in sis will be the greatest challenge of his Houston to recuperate. who was at Slim’s He has announced that he expects to tack.” he says. Slim’s investment in the Times. Mexico ter Elevens to come. hunkering down or who don’t have the the content. Slim showed me some photographs of a recent birthday party.” (Summers. As usual. talking about toxic assets and other in. complete with jewelled sunglasses passed through the country. although the virus Slim’s forecasts. That would bring the credit markets jobs were created. 1997. other “Our business is to be the carriers. you should recapitalize the developers began coming into the area.” he likes to say. “A businessman once asked me. . Slim travelled to On April 16th. money on a monopoly. The stock prices of his companies table. Times emerges. ‘It’s the potential for he stays very close to his family. His own recipe: “First. He looked his way to a meeting of the Or. but Mexicans.” he said. . Slim said that the U. and a blow-up plastic guitar. in Mexico and the best newspaper. nomic Council. as some observers think that was a mistaken investment. the President’s honor.” he said. the Bush He is expecting to emerge from the cri- party photographs. had short.S. and he suffered a severe hemorrhage. credit—you cannot stop the silly things. . per. that’s only speculation. “All the tools that can be used. Slim. year. this context. If the pany that owns the Independent. In Slim’s opinion. are prosper- tions of authority in the family empire. Mexico. and predicted that the U.S.

Related Interests