Christine Lagarde becomes first female IMF chief

Christine Lagarde has been named as the first-ever female chief of the IMF. Her combination of French sophistication and US pedigree, mixed with with her defence of both free market economics and French social subsidies, have won her praise.


The person replacing Dominique Strauss-Kahn as head of the IMF is a sleek, silver-haired French woman dubbed “the Coco Chanel of world finance” by the international press.

"The executive board of the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday selected Christine Lagarde to serve as IMF managing director and madame chairman of the executive board for a five-year term starting on July 5, 2011," the Fund said in a statement. 

Moments after the announcement, Ms Lagarde responded to her appointment on Twitter: "The results are in: I am honored and delighted that the board has entrusted me with the position of MD of the IMF."

Challenges head for Christine Lagarde

The 24-member board described both Lagarde and her rival for the position, Mexican central banker Agustin Carstens, as "well-qualified candidates" and said that it decided on Lagarde by consensus.

Lagarde begins her five-year term July 5 amid an escalating debt crisis in Europe.

Lagarde's nomination is a "victory for France", President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said in a statement. If Strauss-Kahn’s hasty departure left France red-faced on the world stage, the history-making selection of Christine Lagarde - she is the first woman to hold the position - carries a hint of redemption.

With her blend of what is often portrayed as quintessentially French sophistication and an American pedigree (she speaks fluent English, having lived in the US for 25 years), Lagarde,55, has emerged over recent years as a popular politician both in France and abroad.

Statement by Christine Lagarde after her selection

The French ranked her second (behind only rocker Johnny Hallyday) in a 2009 poll of favourite public figures carried out by paper Le Parisien and radio station RTL, and British daily the Financial Times named her best European finance minister that same year.

Moderate economic policies, smiles, and straight talk

Born Christine Lallouette in Paris, Lagarde was a synchronised swimming champion as a teenager before going on to study law in Paris and then complete a Masters in Political Science in Aix-en-Provence.

Told by the head of a French law firm that, as a woman, she would never make partner in France, Lagarde moved to the US in 1981 and worked her way up to the top of Chicago-based international firm Baker & McKenzie. In 1999, she became the firm’s first female chairman.

But it was under former President Jacques Chirac that Lagarde’s political career took off. Largely unknown to the French public, Lagarde was appointed trade minister in 2005 and initially aroused skepticism in France with her comments that the French labour market was too “rigid”. But she earned high marks in the position for overseeing a significant rise in French exports.

Lagarde was appointed finance minister by newly elected President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007, becoming the first woman in France to have the post. Known as both steadfastly protective of French interests (as well as what she has called the French “safety net”) and to admire the more free-market Anglo-Saxon economic model, Lagarde was crucial to securing the approval of a bailout mechanism of flailing euro zone members in 2010.

January 1, 1956: Born in Paris.

1981: Joins Paris branch of Baker & McKenzie law firm.

1999: Leaves for Chicago, becomes chair of Baker & McKenzie’s executive committee.

2002: The Wall Street Journal ranks her fifth on a list of European businesswomen.

2005: Becomes minister of trade in Jacques Chirac’s cabinet.

2007: Becomes minister of agriculture in Nicolas Sarkozy’s cabinet.

2007: Named minister of finance.

May 25, 2011: Announces candidacy for chief of IMF.

June 28, 2011: Named first female IMF chief.

If Lagarde’s lack of an academic background in economics has been cited as a professional limitation, she has won respect from international leaders for her deftness in brokering international deals under pressure during France’s G20 presidency this year.

Lagarde is also widely appreciated for her brisk, friendly manner and penchant for straight talk and candor. She has openly criticised what she called a "macho corporate culture" leading up to the financial crisis of 2008, and when appearing in 2009 on US TV host Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show”, Lagarde boasted of firing inefficient managers at a French-Belgian bank.

During that interview, Lagarde also delighted the American audience and host with her sense of humour, drawing applause and laughter when presenting Stewart with a stereotypical French beret.

The most prominent blemish on Lagarde’s otherwise rather squeaky-clean image is a sticky legal situation in which Lagarde has faced questions over her role in a 2007 case that saw French businessman and Sarkozy ally Bernard Tapie awarded a lavish settlement.

Lagarde rebuffed the accusations that she abused her authority by ordering a special panel of judges to intervene in the case. She said the claims amounted to “political maneuvering” and insisted that she acted in accordance with the law.

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