May 20th, 2011
05:21 PM GMT
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As Christine Lagarde prepares to take the reins at the International Monetary Fund, her cool head in a crisis and capability in negotiating consensus will stand her in good stead.

I first met Madame Lagarde in 2007, shortly after she was appointed France’s Finance Minister – the first woman to hold such a role among the world’s eight most industrialized nations.

I remember being transfixed by two things: her imposing stature (standing six-feet tall versus my five-foot nothing) and considerable self assurance. Yet Lagarde’s “Iron Lady” ego and Thatcheresque looks belie a more deadly weapon to those who stand in her way. For Ms Lagarde is, above all, charming.

At a meeting of EU finance chiefs in the South of France a year later, I watched Lagarde’s male counterparts both cower and drool as she delivered a powerful pre-dinner speech in the garden of a Riviera villa. She was wearing a suit that meant business and satin stilettos that said cocktail time.

The evening was warm, the champagne flowed and with Lagarde on the stage, the credit crunch seemed a distant memory even though Europe was already lurching into a recession.

Lagarde, whose country was now halfway through its rotating EU presidency, was on top form even if the financial sector was not. You see, part of Lagarde’s charm is that she embodies contradictions.

But that gathering was France entertaining its clubby eurozone neighbors and now Lagarde will soon be playing to a larger audience with more power, more money. Those who have met her more than once over the years, like me, have no doubt she will rise to the challenge. 

In fact, while some eurozone colleagues may shrink behind the weight of their hefty responsibilities (see Greece) Lagarde shines when given a tough job to do.

Soon after becoming France's Finance Minister, with the onset of the credit crunch well and truly apparent, I remember Lagarde summoned the heads of all of the country's banks and made them be brutally honest with her about their finances.

Looking back on those days in a recent interview for the documentary 'Too Big to Fail,' the French Finance Minister admitted with candour that the first time she found out about the collapse of Lehman Brothers was 'after the event.'

She certainly won't be able to say the same about Greece – if or when (according to an increasing number of analysts) – it defaults.

At first glance Lagarde seems as Gallic as they come. She always makes time during her busy schedule to have a proper lunch – le dejeuner is in fact something of a ritual on the sixth floor of number 139 Rue de Bercy, the seat of the finance ministry in Paris.

So far so French… yet what makes Lagarde properly palatable to politicians across the Pond is that she has spent many years in the United States, reaching the top of Baker & McKenzie, one of the country’s biggest law firms, as its first female chairman. Lagarde’s time in the U.S. has left her with impeccable English and fluent in the language of finance, making her one of the most lucid and respected politicians in Europe.

Her pulling power extends to the media as well. Last year Forbes magazine rated her the world’s 43rd most powerful woman and she was voted best European finance minister by the Financial Times in 2009.

But for Lagarde, being European –or indeed French – may prove to be a double-edged sword. France has dominated the top positions at the fund since its inception in 1945, providing four out of its past 11 managing directors. And while emerging markets have stoked debate about opening up the field, experts say it’s unlikely European countries will relinquish control anytime soon with bailouts for Greece, Portugal and Ireland to consider. So, with a new European MD at the fund Ms Lagarde will have to choose her moves wisely-lest she attract accusations of 'Old World' favoritism.

For the 24-member executive committee making the appointment this week, things couldn't have turned out better, as Agustin Carstens, the Mexican Central Bank Governor, would make an ideal fit to replace John Lipsky as Deputy MD.

Such an appointment would also appease growing calls for more developing world representation among the top tiers at the IMF.

Christine Lagarde is a woman with many facets but her laser-sharp focus is what marks her out most. The mother of two once represented her country’s hopes in synchronised swimming. Her hair may be silver but make no mistake she's going for gold. Whether the IMF and the eurozone will have any left when they've finished bailing out Greece is another matter.

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soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Charles Frith

    Hope the IMF refrains from raping African countries in the future.

    May 20, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  2. Alexander Jones

    I somehow completely disagree she will make it as the new head of the IMF right away; she certainly has all the skills and competences, and the political establishment this side of the pond even rates her very highly, but her French nationality plays against her in what has turned into yet-another US vs. EU war of finger-pointing based nigh entirely on stereotypes.

    May 20, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  3. tankruleset

    wow.. what a lady...

    May 20, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
  4. mtrought

    Nice old foot but she does not impress me. The IMF still represents the autocrat nature ofn Europe and the US. They still colonise world economics and that is why anybody can become Un secrteary general but only a perp with a past could become IMF chief.

    May 20, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  5. Li feiyan

    Lady, first.

    May 20, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  6. theAfricanHaitian

    What does someone body's height mean,.if she does not have a good heart

    May 21, 2011 at 2:12 am |
  7. Ross

    Pity she's French because otherwise she'd be a shoo-in.

    May 21, 2011 at 7:41 am |
  8. micko1991

    I really hope that she becomes IMF chief, she deserves it and it should boost Europe.

    May 21, 2011 at 7:52 am |
  9. gloriadpinzon

    He may be innocent, "due process" and all that but nonetheleass the man has a sordid past. This is who we have running the the IMF

    May 21, 2011 at 8:13 am |
  10. Ken Spud

    Before the IMF chief met his fate, and completely unconnected to it, I had noticed several successive appearances by Ms. LARGARDE AT VARIOUS AND SUNDRY INTERNATIONAL FUNCTIONS, where she was always in the center of the picture or the scene. I felt at the time that she was up to something (no evidence mind you-just one of those damn premonitions- deja vue) When recent news coverage of the IMF meltdown by the news media began its 'spread" her word, there has been a repeated release showing her next to "Kahn", obviously ignoring him and obviously focused upon the 'camera.
    I now suspect that she and Joseph Stiglitz (a public enemy of the IMF) might find some common ground for an organization (IMF)which has through western bias and intransigence, made many wealthy people terribly wealthier, and many third world countries slaves to outdated monetary policies. Maybe it is charm and not ridgid rubric which will give the helpless some badly needed help.

    May 21, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  11. Antje

    Indeed as good as they get. I noticed once in a documentary on TV about french presidency of the EU where everything circled about Lagarde. At one moment after a motorcade arrived in Nice she took serious time to thank the police-escorte and have a quick well thought through word with the commander of that escorte. Opposed to others (from other continents) who cannot be bothered by working people.

    May 21, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  12. YAKIMO

    I think the post of such a powerful institution like the IMF should be given to a male.This does not mean that i have anything against women,but in my opinion,it is a man that fits that position.

    May 21, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  13. Sindhi

    Who she would assault later on :P

    May 21, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  14. sisi31

    I am French, and I totally disagree the attitude and the acts of the previous French IMF chairman. However, Christine Lagarde is internationally very appreciated as a Finance minister. It is true to say that her worst problem is Strauss Khan. But I have convicted she can do the job.

    Above all, I think that female chairmen (chairwomen ?) is a very good thing and can change a little our testosteroned world.

    May 21, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  15. emmanuel Rosenstingl

    The lady impresses as competent, charming, tough ( she is like cheap toilet paper: tough and taking no shit from anybody)
    so why not?

    May 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  16. willy

    I hope no...obeying to sarkosi, she gave away 210 millions euros taxpayers to a criminal named Bernard Tapie. Shame on her..

    May 21, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  17. history99

    Could experts tell us?

    How many African black slaves were made and tortured to die by French in French ships?
    2,000,000 and 600,000?

    How many African black children slaves were made and tortured to die by French in French ships?
    How many African and Asian people were bullied and massacred by France in African and Asian land?

    May 22, 2011 at 2:58 am |
  18. history99

    According to facts, France is one of dirtiest country on violating human right in the world. Any African or Asian country is at least 1000 times better on human right record than immoral France.

    Now France kills children, age below 12 (Gaddafi's grandchildren), and rapes an American women; France is declining; could a French to be the head of IMF continually?

    The world must have justice and human right. Next head of IMF should be from African or Asian country or an American women.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:01 am |
  19. Onwuka

    dear history99, wakup little guy. All slaves were enslaved by their fellow tribes man or competing neighbour tribes. Slaves were not tortured by the transporters. That would have been bad on their health and value.
    Slave descendants are far better off in the US then their counterparts in Africa. Africans en-masse prefer to live in Europe and US. THis because off African-style leadership and being with all African populations. Confirm this with the NY Ghana women. Had she stayed in Ghane shw would have been dead by now. Her daughter would have 2-3 children without the fathers around, she would not have consented to conceiving the kids. And likely she would have HIV by then.

    May 22, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  20. Sylvain

    .......... Ando the raping of the 3rd world will still go on obviously. But, that raping of AFRICA and other 3rd world countries is about to stop for good,a change is occuring. The " powers that were " are loosing their grips of control on the world . They are being forced to stand down by the BRICs who are taking over. " THEY " stand for peace and free energy for everyone. Their main goal is abolishing world suffering. So pretty soon we might say good riddance to wars and poverty. Qui vivra verra !!!!!!!!!!!

    May 22, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  21. Kynt

    At least her chasing maids around hotel rooms in her birthday suit would make for a really juicy story...

    But on a serious note, I totally support her ambition. The boys clubs around the world could use some competent competition.

    May 23, 2011 at 6:04 am |
  22. Connie

    Picking a qualified woman is a sure way to get around the disgusting personal corruption that men bring to the politics. It's like men seek political power to attain personal power, ability to coerce sex from subordinates and opportunities for wealth derived from graft. Men seem to lack understanding of "the Common Good" .

    May 23, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  23. Rae Ann Pointer

    I read the article and did not see where the answer was to the entitled question. All the article said was she was going to be another elitist snob looking down at the rest of the world and that there were going to be even more people worshipping the ground she walked on.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  24. David

    Well I dont think she is qualified. The political mafia of the IMF playing the high class loan shark that has wrecked economies around the world. They are manipulative and part of a bigger free mason heriditary that plagues all the big money institutions. Her bias will see France getting most of the cake in terms of expenses that the IMF spends so lavishly. I am not convinced that she can do a man's job. Also, I believe that the IMF should be disbanded. They have done nothing but finance goverments to wage war in the name of democracy and make weak nations poorer..

    THerefore if France wants to make it their favourite pastime to hold a top IMF limelight.,... this may be her swansong.....
    scale of 1 to 10, I would give her 2 points.

    June 28, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  25. NewGB

    Well, she is French, so expect lots of sex scandals.

    July 5, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  26. michael oliver

    Article with irrelevant comments (iron lady, tall, blah blah blah).

    Another attorney in the IMF? Is there no economists? Financial 'seriously'??

    is it just me who think this way?

    Why layers? Is not clear what most of the european politics, all of them from law background, did to UE?

    July 5, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  27. Suleman

    what do u expect from a high profile Capitalist to deliver? except policies & actions which are pro rich & anti poor....

    July 5, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  28. michael oliver

    @suleman, you're damn right. What world are we living in...western world is drowning with all these high profiles and everybody watchs passively. it sucks

    July 5, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
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