Who needs Carlos Slim?

Or Hugo Chavez for that matter?

If you’re looking for some inspirational reading material during these troubling, global economic times, pick up the August 11, 2008 issue of Forbes magazine (my favorite business magazine).  The cover story is about Denis O’Brien, the Irish wireless mogul who’s become a hero to people in several poor and under-developed countries like Haiti and Jamaica.

O’Brien has taken huge risks by taking his Digicel cell phone company into politically unstable countries but he has made a profoundly positive impact on people’s lives in a very short period of time.  For instance, Digicel started selling cell phones in Haiti in May 2006 and cell phone ownership has jumped from 5% to 35%.  When riots broke out this past April in Haiti, Haitians spared Digicel stores.  Digicel started selling cell phones in El Salvador in April 2007 and cell phone ownership has jumped from 28% to 50%.  In Jamaica, cell phone ownership is now 90% (in the U.S., interestingly, it’s 80%).

Now O’Brien is moving into other Latin American countries like Nicaragua and Honduras, where he’ll butt heads with Mexican mobile phone mogul Slim.  O’Brien is quoted as saying that he doesn’t “think about Slim every day,” and he adheres to a simple business strategy: “Get big fast. Damn the cost. Be brave. Go over the cliff.  The competition doesn’t have the balls.”  Sounds like a pretty good strategy for these difficult times.

Slim and O’Brien are both billionaires but “the second-wealthiest man in the world” Slim clearly has a lot more resources than does O’Brien.  However, folks throughout many developing countries seem to be cheering on O’Brien.  I’ve always believed that the likes of Mexico’s business monopoly titans did much to retard the eventual development of democracy in that country (read the biography “El Tigre” about Televisa’s imperious Emilio Azcarraga Milmo) so it’s quite refresing to read about the likes of O’Brien.  O’Brien has proven that being “the Company of the People” (as he refers to Digicel) and being a billionaire are NOT mutually exclusive.  In typical Forbes fashion, the title of its O’Brien cover story is: “A Tyrant’s Worst Nightmare.”  Que viva O’Brien!

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