Mexican billionaire: Business, not Santa, solves ills
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MEXICO CITY -- The world's third-richest man, Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim, poked gentle fun at the philanthropy of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, saying businessmen can do more good by building solid companies than by "going around like Santa Claus" donating money.
But Mr. Slim on Monday announced a new $450 million foundation for health research and care -- a minor slice of his estimated $49 billion fortune.
Mr. Slim said he had no interest in competing with Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffett, who lead him on the Forbes magazine's list of the world's richest and have donated much larger shares of their fortunes. Mr. Slim is gaining rapidly on the two heavyweights with a fortune that grew by $19 billion last year -- the largest wealth gain in the past decade tracked by Forbes.
"Our concept is more to accomplish and solve things, rather than giving; that is, not going around like Santa Claus," said Mr. Slim, as he cracked jokes, smoked a cigar and outlined business plans at a rare news conferences. "Poverty isn't solved with donations.
"I think that what Gates has done is good, and above all, because he said he would devote full time to this, and half time to Microsoft, which makes time-and-a-half," he quipped.
Mr. Slim showed himself as an unrepentant businessman driven by "the taste for competition." He said his own charitable foundations have $4 billion in endowments -- but talked ironically about Mr. Buffet's decision to give away his fortune over the next 20 years.
"It's very interesting, because he leaves those who are running his affairs the responsibility of being very profitable," Mr. Slim said. "If they're inefficient, or don't get real-term returns, they're not going to be running anything."
Mr. Gates, who set up the world's richest charity foundation, has said he believed "that with great wealth comes great responsibility, a responsibility to give back to society."
His friend, Mr. Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., agreed with that sentiment last year when he said he would send about $1.5 billion every year to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has an endowment of $33 billion.
For Mr. Slim, business is a calling and the answer for most ills.
For example, he proposed that the United States transfer large numbers of Medicare patients to huge hospitals that could be built in northern Mexico, where health-care costs would be lower.
True to his style, Mr. Slim seldom proposes a plan he does not have a business interest in -- his construction company helps finance hospital projects. He said he wanted to join a plan to distribute low-cost computers to the poor, but it was unclear if that would involve his chain of computer stores.
His fortune has caused resentment in a country where the minimum wage is about 50 cents an hour. Many in Mexico claim Mr. Slim's fortune comes from charging high prices in Mexico's fixed-line telephone market, where his Telmex company holds a near-monopoly.
Mr. Slim has used Telmex to build a business empire that includes Latin America's largest mobile phone company as well as banks, Internet providers, oil industry equipment makers, retail stores and restaurants.
First Published March 14, 2007 12:00 am