“Who?” That was the response from most Americans when Forbes announced recently that Carlos Slim had passed Bill Gates to become the richest man in the world. The next question was usually, “A Mexican guy?! But…how?”

With a per-capita GDP that’s a fraction of the USA’s it is indeed hard to understand how a Mexican businessman can be worth more than the founder of Microsoft, but there are two good reasons. The first is that Bill Gates has been giving away his fortune almost as fast as he makes it lately, contributing to disease eradication around the world through the Gates Foundation.

The other reason is highlighted in this short article from Latin Trade: It’s Good to Be Slim. It’s hard to see all the details on this chart below, but if you follow the link and click on the original, it blows up larger.

carlos-slim mexico

Here’s the kicker: “His family’s net worth, built on investments in 200-plus companies, represents 6 percent of Mexico’s total gross domestic product. Slim makes John Rockefeller, whose fortune at its peak was but 2.5 percent of U.S. GDP, look small time.”

And here’s what Mexican people know all too well: “Whenever Mexicans make a call – or light up a smoke, go out to lunch or drive on a new highway – chances are Slim has a piece of the action.”