Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world, arrived at the Happy Hearts Fund gala last night as a mariachi band blasted. In one corner, mole and coffee were served, in another, a 9-week-old puma named Zeus jumped around a mockup of his native habitat.
Slim, too, was a focus of the event organized with assistance from the Mexico Tourism Board.
Guests dashed from across the room to greet the Mexican tycoon who has made his fortune in industry, construction, finance and telecommunications. As of 5:30 last night, Slim’s estimated worth was $75.4 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
At the Altman Building in Manhattan’s Chelsea district, he offered open arms, a big smile and a twinkle in his eye as he said hello to the chairman of ING Latin America, Carlos Muriel; Howard G. Buffett, a son of Warren Buffett; Jennifer Lopez’s ex, Marc Anthony, and Juan Francisco Beckmann Vidal, chairman of Jose Cuervo.
Slim showed the warmth of Bill Clinton, except more teddy bear than statesman. At one point he even wore a pink butterfly on his finger, borrowed from a centerpiece.
The context was certainly feel-good: raising money to build schools in areas affected by natural disaster, led by the model Petra Nemcova, founder of the Happy Hearts Fund.
Referring to Slim, she said, “I couldn’t imagine celebrating Mexico without you.”
No one says no to Nemcova, said Kevin Martins da Silva, of Three Ocean Partners LLC. His firm’s donations have built two schools.
Howard Buffett has also come under her spell; he was honored for his achievements in philanthropy, which range from building a school in Peru with Happy Hearts to ensuring this week that clean water reaches the town of Goma in the eastern Congo to prevent deaths from cholera.
At the lectern, Buffett, who also farms and serves on corporate boards, praised Slim’s approach to philanthropy, which includes building the Soumaya Museum in Mexico City and funding education, health and sports programs.
“When Carlos got into philanthropy, he said he expects things to happen differently and to get results,” Buffett said.
Buffett also talked of attending planter’s school at a John Deere dealership, where an instructor told students that they have about 40 chances in their lifetime to grow the best crop. He used the story to emphasize that we should take advantage of our limited chances to improve the world.
As soon as Buffett left the stage, Slim was at his side, thanking him for his remarks.
A lot else happened at the event, from an operatic rendition of Paul Anka’s “My Way” to the auctioning of tickets to Vanity Fair’s Oscar night party, for $100,000, to the honoring of Lynne Greene, group president of Estee Lauder Cos. (EL), who noted the happy coincidence that Clinique has a perfume named “Happy Heart.”
Carlos Slim’s son Carlos Slim Domit hung out with Anthony, while Howard Buffett’s son, Howard W. Buffett, enjoyed guacamole and sea bass seated with Justin Rockefeller, with whom he said he shares an interest in farming.
As for who left the most lasting impression: That honor belongs to Stephanie Lopez, an 11-year-old girl of Tabasco, Mexico, and a student at a school built by Happy Hearts.
She said she likes the computer lab, where she’s learning how to use PowerPoint and Excel. She wants to be a lawyer working for women’s rights.
(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)
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