Christine Lagarde is an unconventional but highly successful French politician.
She was born on 1 January 1956 to an English professor and French teacher. She is the oldest of three children. When she was 17 years old, her father died, after which she and her siblings were raised by her mother and grandmother (Independent).
As a teenager, she was a member of France's national synchronized swimming team. Her coach reportedly told her to “grit your teeth and smile,” a motto that has served her well in politics (FT).
Early in her career, she tried to enroll in École Nationale D'Administration – France’s institution of choice for churning out the political elites of the future – but failed, twice.
Reflecting back, she now thinks she never would have achieved her level of political success had she gone the École nationale d'administration route, which she said was too male-dominated (Independent).
Instead, she joined a prestigious American law firm. About two decades later, through her own merits, she was elected Chair of the law firm.
It was then that she drew the attention of the French government, which tapped her for a string of her positions that culminated to her current post as the Finance Minister.
Early in her political career, her lack of political experience led her to commit several gaffes. She used the term “plan de rigueur,” which was taboo in French politics. When the French complained of high oil prices, she told them to ride bicycles.
Her unconventional path to political power, however, is also a tremendous advantage. For example, she speaks flawless English, something that’s rare in elite French politicians.
She’s also a woman.
In fact, she’s the first female Chair of her US law firm, the first female finance minister in G8, and likely to be the first female managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“In gender-dominated environments, men have a tendency to... show how hairy chested they are, compared with the man who's sitting next to them. I honestly think that there should never be too much testosterone in one room,” she once said (Independent).
She also thinks her “her understated, feminine approach to negotiations can prove an asset when dealing with male peers” (Telegraph).
Below is more information about her:
- Early in her career, she worked as an intern for US Congressman William Cohen
- She, a divorcee, has two sons aged 22 and 24. She likes to spent time with them and her new partner in her vacation house in Normandy (Independent)
- She has a “penchant for Chanel jackets” (NYTimes)
- She was “credited with an important role in securing a €750bn” of the EU bailout fund in 2010
- She has touted ideas like challenging the global reserve status of the US dollar and expanding G-8 talks to include more countries (Forbes)
Below is the famous interview she did with US comedian Jon Stewart in April 2009.