The head of the IMF has temporarily stepped down as she waits to find out whether she will become the first woman to lead the powerful ECB.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde said on Tuesday that she is giving up her IMF duties temporarily now that European Union leaders have nominated her for the presidency of the European Central Bank (ECB).
Lagarde said in a tweet that she was honoured by the nomination in Brussels.
So who is Christine Lagarde?
A former lawyer, Lagarde is likely to be the next head of the European Central Bank, an appointment that would make her the first woman to lead the powerful institution.
Last year, Forbes ranked her third on its list of the world’s most powerful women, behind German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister Theresa May.
Lagarde was the first woman to serve as finance minister from any Group of Seven nation and then the first to lead the IMF, of which she has been managing director since 2011.
Lagarde, 63, took the position in 2011 in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, and is credited with steering the Washington-based IMF through turbulent economic waters, including handling the Greek economic collapse.
Her second five-year term as managing director of the global crisis lender ends in two years, which makes her the second leader of a global financial institution to leave early to move to another position, following Jim Yong Kim’s decision early this year to step down as president of the World Bank.
Breaking the glass ceiling
Born in Paris in 1956, Lagarde was the eldest daughter of a university lecturer and a teacher. She went to school in the northern port city of Le Havre and attended a prestigious girls’ boarding school outside of Washington, in the US, before going on to study at universities in France.
Lagarde has degrees from the Institute of Political Sciences (IEP) and from the Law School of Paris X University, where she also lectured prior to joining Baker & McKenzie in 1981.
She was the first female chairman of a major global law firm – the US-based Baker and McKenzie – and was France’s first female economy minister when named by then-President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.
Following her law career, Lagarde was appointed as France’s foreign trade minister in 2005. She prioritised opening new markets for the country’s products, focusing on the technology sector.
It was after working briefly as minister of agriculture that Lagarde became France’s finance minister, the first woman to hold this post not just in France but in any of the major G8 industrial countries.
In 2011, the IMF board elected Lagarde as its next managing director and chairman for a five-year term. Lagarde became the first woman to be elected as the head of the IMF.
Fierce advocate for women
Lagarde makes a strong economic case for having more women in positions of power, including saying the financial crisis may not have happened if Lehman Brothers had instead been ‘Lehman Sisters’.
“Greater emphasis on women in organisations leads to better governance and decision-making.
“I maintain that women have a different approach to risk than men,” she told Elle magazine earlier this year.
“Our studies have shown that, by removing barriers to women’s participation in the labour market, GDP could increase significantly,” she explained, adding that productivity would also rise, increasing wages for men and women.
However, Lagarde is not an economist, which means she will be another first: the first ECB president who did not lead a national central bank. This could make her a target for criticism, especially if the management of the economic slowdown in Europe goes wrong, amid Brexit and rising trade tensions.
But one former IMF official, said her leadership of the fund, with its 189 members, makes her “exceptionally qualified” to run the ECB.
And another associate, who asked not to be identified, said: “She knew how to impose the calm without posing as morally superior.” She was described as instead displaying “a touch of humanity”.
The stamina of the former synchronised swimmer, who represented France as a youth, is legendary. She still exercises every day — sometimes in her seat during meetings — has not eaten meat in 40 years, and told Elle of her skills in pretending to drink wine at working dinners.