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From Tennessee Farm Boy to Mexican Millionaire

Andrew Paxman

By Signe Hammer

In 1901, an American college dropout arrived in Mexico. Unlike so many later youthful arrivals from English-speaking countries, he was neither writer nor hippy. He had eloped with his southern-belle girlfriend, and he stayed to make himself the richest man in Mexico.

On Tuesday, February 6, in the Bellas Artes auditorium, Andrew Paxman will tell the fascinating story of William O. Jenkins, robber baron and philanthropist. Paxman’s recent book, Jenkins of Mexico: How a Southern Farm Boy Became a Mexican Magnate, details the shrewd, ruthless dealings that propelled Jenkins’ rise to business tycoon. During the Mexican Revolution, for instance, he bought land from impoverished property owners, quintupling his fortune and surviving both a kidnapping and a firing-squad scare.

He owned textile mills and a hugely successful sugar plantation. When the Golden Age of Mexican film came around in the 1940s and 50s, he was ready to exploit it by monopolizing the movie-theater business and controlling film production. In a distinctly modern gambit, he engineered Mexico’s first hostile takeover of its second-largest bank. “Jenkins was the Carlos Slim of his day,” says Paxman, who is researching a biography of the currently richest man in Mexico. “Both were entrepreneurs who knew the right people.”

Eventually, like US robber baron Andrew Carnegie before him, Jenkins turned to philanthropy. He put his money to work in Mexico, where he’d gotten it. After his wife’s early death, he established the Mary Street Jenkins charitable foundation and willed his entire fortune to it. He also co-founded two universities and funded projects to help the poor.

Andrew Paxman was born in London, worked as a journalist in Mexico City in the 1990s, and publishes in both English and Spanish. He co-authored the Mexican bestseller about the media mogul Emilio Azcárraga Milmo, El Tigre: Emilio Azcárraga y su imperio Televisa. Published in English by Oxford University Press, his biography of Jenkins is titled in Spanish, En busca del señor Jenkins: Dinero, poder y gringofobia. His anthology of profiles of Mexico’s state governors, Los Gobernadores: Los caciques del pasado y del presente, appears in May. He teaches history and journalism at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) in Mexico City and Aguascalientes.

San Miguel PEN is a chapter of PEN International, the organization of writers that fights for freedom of expression around the world. The 150-peso admission helps fund local activities and includes a free glass of wine with dinner afterwards at Vivali’s, across the street at Hernandez Macias 66. Tickets at Tesoros in the Biblioteca or at the door. For more information, visit


2018 PEN Winter Lecture Series presents:

Jenkins of Mexico: How a Southern Farm Boy Became a Mexican Magnate

By Andrew Paxman

Tue, Feb 6, 6pm

Bellas Artes Auditorium

Hernández Macías 75

150 pesos


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