When I was in the US, if the name Bill Gates came up in conversations, people tended to say positive things about him. I used to hear jokes in school about how Bill Gates was so rich that his house had its own zip code (which is not so funny when you realize it’s true!). Although some dismissed Mr. Gates as a man too rich to understand 99.99% of us, those same people could not deny the good work and contribution Bill was making around the world with his donations and philanthropy work.
When I worked with students a couple of years ago, I used to ask them if they knew who the richest man in the world was. The popular answer: Bill Gates. I encountered one or two cool nerds that knew that answer was no longer correct. The richest man in the world is Carlos Slim. Instead of asking these students if they knew who Carlos Slim was, I focused their attention on WHY Bill Gates was no longer the richest man in the world. He gave, and continues to give, back.
One of my favorite vocabulary words in high school was “oxymoron”. Whenever I think of Carlos’ last name, my brain quickly registers that word. Carlos’ last name accurately reflects his generosity. It’s almost like he gives back because he feels he has to or his businesses will suffer. Nobody wants to support a business that belongs to someone with a mentality like Ebenezer Scrooge, especially a sassy Latino version.
I have yet to meet a Mexican in Mexico whose opinion of Carlos Slim is more positive than negative. Maybe I should go interview his financial adviser. So why is Carlos’ image so negative? There’s no need for a dissertation or powerpoint presentation to answer this question. Plain and simply, he’s codo (stingy). Many Mexicans I spoke to about this expressed embarrassment to the reality that the richest man in the world is a fellow compatriot who is not doing more within his position of privilege to help his country. Instead, he’s focusing more on his business empire. Mr. Slim, maybe you don’t want to help Mexico in ways that other wealthy people have in other countries. OK, fine. But it is self-righteous and pompous (another favorite vocab word of mine) to ridicule those who genuinely give back with the wealth they’ve been blessed with.
A couple of years ago, Carlos Slim gave his perspective on what he thought about giving back like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett: “…businessmen can do more good by building solid companies than by ‘going around like Santa Claus’ donating money.” Don’t let the Santa Claus reference distract you. Mr. Slim, when successful professionals give back, they’re not always giving back as “businessmen”. They’re giving back as human beings that willingly accept the responsibility of utilizing their wealth to aid the world in sectors that greatly need it. Consequently, they ARE contributing to the “building of solid companies” in many respects. Companies, organizations and foundations that do not necessarily belong to them either.
Maybe Carlos should get a better PR guy to help improve his image, but my guess is that he doesn’t have one. The Grinch never needed one either. Sometimes image is everything and Carlos Slim can definitely improve it.