Carlos Slim: Who Is the World's Richest Man?

What does it take to knock Bill Gates off his perch as the world's richest man? How about your own telecom empire and a personal fortune worth an estimated $53.5 billion?

Carlos Slim Helu is in the headlines this week after Forbes Magazine named him the world's top billionaire, putting him ahead of the likes of Microsoft founder Gates and legendary American investor Warren Buffett.

Only In America?
Not Only In America

But unlike Gates, who was last year's top billionaire, and Buffett, who held the title a year before, Mexican native Slim hasn't exactly been a household name in the U.S. ... and he probably likes it that way.

"I will describe him as a the person with the lowest profile I've ever seen," Slim deputy Arturo Elias told ABCNews.com last year.

In the last 15 months, however, Slim's profile undoubtedly has risen. In January 2009, Slim invested $250 million to bolster the then-ailing balance sheet of the New York Times Company. More recently, it was rumored that Slim was looking to buy the media company outright. Elias denied that Slim had any plans to do so, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month.

VIDEO: Bill Weir?s sneak peek at the Forbes billionaires list finds a few surprises.
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The potential fiscal benefits of Slim's growing New York Times stake -- he initially bought into the company in September 2008 -- are significant. His second Times investment was in the form of an interest-bearing bonds that stand to provide a relatively high return for Slim, 14 percent.

But it also brought Slim something else: notoriety.

It represented "his coming-out party in the United States," said Armand Peschard-Sverdup, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Regardless of what the New York Times books say -- whether they're in the red or in the black -- at the end of the day, it's an incredible calling card," Peschard-Sverdup said.

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Before the Times, Slim's calling card was, well, calling.

He garnered a large part of his fortune through Mexican investments, namely in the telecommunications industry. In 1990, he bought and privatized TelMex, the Mexican government's national phone company monopoly.

Success by Monopoly?

Slim later acquired a cellular service license and eventually, his America Movil company grew into a Latin American communications giant, with more than 150 million customers stretching from Argentina to Jamaica.

Along the way, Slim riled critics who alleged that he built his success by exploiting his connections to high-ranking government officials who, in turn, ensured that competing communications companies were virtually locked out of the Mexican market.

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"In the U.S., he would be a perfect target for investigative reporters curious about the ongoing relationships between the very rich and the very powerful politicians who make and enforce the laws," Wall Street blogger Douglas McIntyre wrote on the Web site 247WallSt.com. "If The Times were located in Mexico, Slim would probably get his share of headlines, some of which might not be flattering."

A New York Times spokeswoman told ABCNews.com in January 2009 that Slim's stake in the Times would not affect the paper's coverage of him. A month later, the Times reported that Mexico's Federal Competition Commission was looking into Slim's companies. Those companies spend more to fund defenses against antitrust cases than the "entire annual budget" of the commission, an unnamed official told the newspaper.

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