A litany of “firsts”
Christine Lagarde has heard the words “the first woman to” more times than most in her life. She has been the first female head of an international law firm, first to become finance minister in a G8 country, and the first female director of the IMF. Lagarde attributes her impressive career to her time as a synchronized swimmer for the French National Team, describing how the grueling training taught her to “grit your teeth and smile,” and how surviving international politics requires much of the same attitude.
Lagarde’s success began early on as a child through her swimming, and at 17 after the death of her father she won a scholarship to a boarding school in Maryland and it was there that she developed the perfect English that she has now become renowned for. From there Lagarde would study law and take a job as an antitrust lawyer for Baker and Mackenzie International and be elected Chairwoman in October of 1999.
In 2005 Lagarde would be named the Trade Minister for France, and her blend of internationalism and pro-France stance allowed French exports to climb to an all time high. Despite this, Lagarde never gained the popularity one would expect from a highly capable individual such as herself. Many French citizens did not trust Lagarde due to her professional manner, and how unlike many other women in French politics, she did not rely on a sort of “French feminine elegance” to win over followers.
From finance minister to IMF
After her success as Trade Minister Lagarde was promoted by Nicholas Sarkozy to Minister of Finance, and from there she went to work attempting to reform much of the French financial system. A notable proponent of a liberal economic system, Lagarde has been able to balance her own personal beliefs with that of the French people, by imposing stricter regulations and hedge funds and international finance while also trying to reprioritize hiring in the public sector and promote more competition through stronger anti-trust laws. Lagarde continued her strong appeal abroad by appearing on Jon Stewart, as well as being a strong and respected figure in many of the global summits she negotiated at.
Lagarde was first mentioned as a candidate for IMF Chairwoman after current chairman Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned when he was charged with the rape of a hotel maid in New York. While her status as a European was not considered ideal, Lagarde managed to persuade China to vote for her, and from there she became the first female Chairwoman of the IMF.
While the IMF is not an organization known for its popularity, Lagarde has been able to enjoy a time there with relatively little personal scandal. Much of her work happens behind the scenes, but Lagarde has been publicly outspoken on the Eurozone crisis in Greece and has called for Greece to pay back its debts without any grace period. Lagarde’s diplomacy skills have been put to the test in dealing with Greece, and while she did call for “adults in the room” in reference to Syriza and Greek Prime Minister Tsipras, it does seem that Lagarde and the IMF ultimately forced the deal that it personally desired upon Greece.
Recently, Lagarde has been attempting to sway the financial community into not panicking over China’s recent slump in growth and instead has been preaching a philosophy of economic moderation. Lagarde has faced some calls to resign, saying that her stance on Greece was too tough or in some instances too weak, but just as she has does throughout her career Lagarde continues to search for middle ground solutions and ignore the criticism. She has risen to the top of the political world from a country known for its chauvinism, and she has yet to change her approach or mannerisms in order to please other audiences and critics. In a financial world dominated by men, Lagarde is a balancing force, whether she will be judged positively or negatively for it she will do what she has always done: “grit your teeth and smile.”