You know who President Felipe Calderon is, and also recognize his nemesis, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, from the tense 2006 presidential election. You know who Carlos Slim is and, if you live in Mexico, chances are you write him at least one check a month. You can read former President Vicente Fox's new book in English. Actress Salma Hayek just had a baby. You swooned when actor Gael Garcia Bernal (who is Mexican) played Che Guevara (who wasn't). But aren't you bored of seeing the same old names in the headlines?
That's why we decided to apply some fresh thought to the idea of the "top" list. We looked North and South, solicited input from editors, journalists and people "in the know" around Mexico, gathered a long list and went into the war room. We wanted interesting people who added dimension to our sense of what Mexico is and can be. It got heated, but in the end we came out with 25 amazing people. Once we had the list we had to chase our busy subjects down. Our team went out to interview and research the nominees, and we got some of the most talented photographers around to take their portraits. The resulting group of 25 scientists, economists, journalists, chefs, artists, conservationists, entrepreneurs, producers, activists, philanthropists and athletes are presented here for your consideration.
Alfredo Harp Helú’s touch is everywhere in Oaxaca. There’s the restoration of the cathedral Santo Domingo , the cultural centerpiece of this southern city; the cultural center Casa de la Ciudad; Museo de Filatelia, created from Harp’s personal stamp collection; and countless other projects dedicated to the economic, environmental, cultural and physical well-being of Oaxacans and Mexicans in general. The Alfredo Harp Helú Foundation has assets of $400 million USD, and in 2006 gave more than $20 million to 261 different organizations.
Alfredo Harp Helú
- 25 Mexicans: Amalia Garcia, beacon
- 25 Mexicans: Andrés Rozental, counselor
- 25 Mexicans: Carlos Marin, pioneer
- 25 Mexicans: Carmen Correa, virtuousa
- 25 Mexicans: Clara Gonzalez, fashionista
- 25 Mexicans: Daniel Aguilar, chronicler
- 25 Mexicans: Dario Ramirez, straight shooter
- 25 Mexicans: Deyanira Aquino, ethnologist
- 25 Mexicans: Eduardo García, prognosticator
- 25 Mexicans: Elisa Miller, ingenue
- 25 Mexicans: Hector Mijangos, indie king
- 25 Mexicans: Hector Rivero Borrell, trustee
- 25 Mexicans: Jessy Bulbo, rockstar
- 25 Mexicans: Lorena Ochoa, champion
- 25 Mexicans: Minerva Cuevas, conceptualist
- 25 Mexicans: Pablo Cruz, maestro
- 25 Mexicans: Patrica Mercado, alternative
- 25 Mexicans: Raul Padilla Lopez, crusader
- 25 Mexicans: Sonia Arias, prodigy
- 25 Mexicans: Subcomandante Marcos, spokesman
Critics of Harp’s cousin, fellow billionaire (and world’s richest man) Carlos Slim Helú, have little beef with Harp’s charitable bona fides. Born in Oaxaca to a Lebanese immigrant family, the industrious Harp did well in school, studied accounting at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and embarked upon a storied career in investment banking, culminating with the purchase and success of what would eventually become financial giant Banamex, bought by Citigroup in 2001 for $12.5 billion USD.
He’s said that his interest in philanthropy didn’t begin with his 1994 kidnapping, which lasted more than three months and ended with a $30 million ransom, though in the years after the globally-reported event, he turned the reins of corporate power over to his colleague, current Banamex CEO Roberto Hernández, and focused on putting the corporation’s capital (through Fomento Banamex), and his own, to work for the greater good.
These days, Harp is a familiar figure in Oaxaca, usually casual in jeans, button-down oxford and a leather jacket, ceding the limelight to the leaders of the projects he funds. “I’m very clear that helping others is what makes me most proud,” he said in a recent Líderes Mexicanos profile. “I hope that I can inspire others to do the same.”
Note: This article was originally published in our November, 2007 issue.