Christine Lagarde, French finance minister — and “complete bad ass” — has emerged as the leading favorite to replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn as the managing director of the International Monetary Fund. Strauss-Kahn, once a leading Socialist candidate for the French presidency, resigned from the IMF top spot last week and is currently under house arrest while awaiting trial for attempted rape in New York City.
Lagarde, 55, made headlines when she took office in 2007 after she advised her famously contemplative compatriots to “think less and work more.” During her tenure, she has shown herself to be a formidable champion of controversial reforms to France’s celebrated social security safety net, including the raising of the minimum age for retirement from 60 to 62 last fall.
Nicknamed l’Américaine by the press for her pro-business sympathies, Lagarde is no stranger to the U.S. She attended high school in Maryland and interned for Republican Congressman William Cohen before joining the Chicago-based law firm of Baker & McKenzie, where she ascended to the post of chairwoman, the firm’s first, in 1999.
Accustomed to the role of trailblazer, Lagarde has shown characteristic candor in discussing the need for greater female representation in the political sphere. Earlier this year, she told The Independent, “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.”
In light of the heightened scrutiny facing the IMF in the wake of the Strauss-Kahn scandal, Lagarde’s comments seem prescient to many observers long critical of the boy’s club ethos of the IMF. Some have gone as far to argue that Lagarde’s appointment to IMF chief chief would spur a much-needed shift in the corporate culture of the multinational organization.
Kenneth Rogoff, a former IMF chief economist, underscored this point when he recently told The New York Times: “What’s happened with Strauss-Kahn underscores how great it would be to have a woman in the role.”
As one of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s most popular cabinet members, Lagarde has shown herself to be deft with the media, and she has employed her easy sense of humor to make the case for decidedly serious issues like financial regulatory reform.
Case in point: Her 2009 appearance on “The Daily Show,” in which she discussed the economic crisis, showed impressive range for someone whose day job involves negotiations over billion-dollar bailout packages and the survival of the eurozone. Take a look:
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