Profile: Christine Lagarde

  • 20 March 2013
  • From the section Business
Christine Lagarde
Image caption Christine Lagarde is known for her straight talking

Christine Lagarde took over as managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in July 2011, after another French politician, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, resigned following his arrest on charges of attempted rape in New York.

But just a month into her job, she found she was to be investigated for abuse of authority while she was French finance minister.

A public prosecutor recommended a judicial investigation into her decision to settle a dispute between the state and tycoon Bernard Tapie, a personal friend of former President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Poised, chic and a fluent English speaker, Ms Lagarde, 57, is the first woman to head the IMF.

But then, throughout her career, she has become familiar with the "first woman to..." tag.

Law school

Born Christine Lallouette in Paris, she tasted success even in her early days, representing the French synchronised swimming team as a teenager.

At 17, following the death of her father, Ms Lagarde went to study in the US for a year, where she perfected her English.

After graduating from law school in Paris, she obtained a Masters degree from the Political Science Institute in Aix en Provence.

In 1981 she returned to the US, joining the international law firm Baker & McKenzie as an associate, specialising in labour, anti-trust, and mergers and acquisitions (M&A).

Eighteen years later, she became the first female chairman of the firm.

Ms Lagarde was appointed France's trade minister in 2005 and, under her watch, French exports reached record levels.

In 2007 she became finance minister, the first woman to hold this post not just in France but in any of the G8 major industrial countries.

Never afraid to speak her mind, she blamed the 2008 worldwide financial crisis partly on the male-dominated, testosterone-fuelled culture at global banks.

One of France's most popular right-wing politicians, in 2009 she came second in a poll carried out by broadcaster RTL and newspaper Le Parisien on the country's favourite personalities, beaten only by singer and actor Johnny Hallyday.

But her popularity has stretched beyond French shores and she is viewed with high regard in the international arena.

Well before she took the helm of the IMF, the Financial Times voted her in 2009 the best finance minister in Europe.

She won international respect for promoting France's negotiating clout in key forums such as the G20.

She also received plaudits for the key role she played in approving a bail-out mechanism to aid struggling members of the eurozone in May 2010.

And her straight-talking manner has only added to her appeal.

Under investigation

Since taking over at the IMF, Ms Lagarde's main challenge has been to try to ease the eurozone debt crisis, in particular the huge bailout required for Greece.

Most recently, she was an important player in talks on an EU-IMF bailout for Cyprus.

She was a front runner to replace Mr Strauss-Kahn from the off.

Image caption Ms Lagarde cuts a stylish figure on the international arena

Kenneth Rogoff, a former IMF chief economist, said she had a wide-ranging appeal: "She is enormously impressive, politically astute and a strong personality.

"At finance meetings all over the world, she is treated practically like a rock star."

But the divorced mother-of two faced some hurdles in her bid for the IMF job.

Her nationality was an issue for some.

A French national has run the IMF for 26 out of the last 33 years, taking the job in five out of the 11 managing directorships, and rising economic powers in Asia and South America questioned the tradition of having a European in charge.

Aside from geography, another stumbling block for Ms Lagarde's candidacy came in the form of the Bernard Tapie legal row.

Ms Lagarde had stepped in to end the court dispute in 2007 by ordering a special panel of judges to arbitrate in the case.

The following year, Mr Tapie was awarded 285m euros (£250m; $405m) in damages.

Ms Lagarde denies any misconduct, and there is no suggestion of personal profit, but a French court began to investigate the case.

The fact that her appointment went ahead suggests it was felt such an investigation was something both the IMF and its new head could take in their stride.

However, in March 2013 police carried out a raid on her Paris home in connection with the case, an indication that Ms Lagarde is yet to put it behind her.

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