Billionaire Pokes Fun At Philanthropy

Mexican businessman Carlos Slim speaks to journalists during a news conference in Mexico City, Monday, March 12, 2007. Slim, the world's third-richest man, is gaining rapidly on Bill Gates and Warren Buffet with a fortune that grew by $19 billion last year.
The world's third-richest man, Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim, poked gentle fun at the philanthropy of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, and said businessmen can do more good by building solid companies than by "going around like Santa Claus" donating money.

Slim on Monday announced a new $450 million foundation for health research and care, a minor slice of his estimated $49 billion fortune.

But Slim said he had no interest in competing with U.S. tycoons Gates and Buffett, who lead him on the Forbes magazine's list of the world's richest people and have donated much larger shares of their fortunes. 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 Slim, as he cracked jokes, smoked a cigar and outlined business plans at one of his 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," Slim quipped.

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 he waxed ironic about Buffet's decision to give way 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," Slim said. "If they're inefficient, or don't get real-term returns, they're not going to be running anything."

Microsoft founder Gates, who set up the world's richest charity foundation, has said he believes "that with great wealth comes great responsibility, a responsibility to give back to society."

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 Slim, business is a calling, and pretty much the cure for all ills.

For example, he proposed that the United States transfer large amounts of Medicare patients to huge hospitals that could be built in northern Mexico, where health care costs would be lower.