Her legacy is a pillar of achievement, authority, and firsts.
When an oyster surrounds a grain of sand with layers of translucent mineral, it becomes a durable pearl of elegant, lasting beauty. This triumph in nature teaches us that with grit, we too can achieve greatness with hard work. We believe that people are like oysters, with pearls that are formed from life’s achievements. This is another installment of the Living like a Pearl series. Find the other stories here.
Ranked an impressive ten times by Forbes Magazine as one of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, Christine Lagarde was destined for greatness and “firsts”. As the first woman to become finance minister of a G8 economy, and the first to head both the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, this French politician, businessperson and lawyer may yet show us more firsts in the years to come.
Auspiciously born on New Year’s Day, 1956 in Paris to accomplished parents, Christine grew up with an emphasis on academics and excellence. Her father, a professor of English, and mother, a Latin, Greek, and French literature teacher, instilled qualities of achievement that influenced her life path, as is evidenced by her impact on the world.
Growing up with three younger brothers in Le Havre, France, Christine was a member of the French national synchronized swimming team. After completing her baccalauréat, an international youth exchange scholarship brought her to Maryland, USA where she worked in the U.S. Capital as an intern congressional assistant, corresponding with French constituents during the Watergate hearings. She later went on to obtain multiple master’s degrees in English, labor law and social law, as well as from the Institute of Political Studies in Southern France.
Her legal career began at age 25 with the law firm Baker & McKenzie, where after just six years she was made partner and named head of the firm in Western Europe. She was the first female Chair between 1999 and 2004.
Her Ministerial career included various senior ministerial posts in the Government of France, as Minister of Commerce (2005–2007), Minister of Agriculture and Fishing (2007), and Minister of the Economy, Finance and Industry (2007–2011).
Announcing her candidacy to be head of the International Monetary Fund in May 2011, Christine received support from governments around the world, and in July 2011, during the escalating European sovereign debt crisis, she became the first female Managing Director of the IMF. After her five-year term, she was re-elected in 2016 for a second term. However, in July 2019, Christine was nominated to serve as the next president of the European Central Bank and resigned as Managing Director of the IMF.
Not without controversy, during her esteemed career Christine has faced criticism of her handling of Europe's fragile economic situation, Greece’s debt crisis, and in 2016 was found guilty by French courts of negligence in a €403 million arbitration deal, but was not imposed a penalty.
Christine’s recognition, honorary doctorates, and list of distinguished awards continue to grow, and her persona would even inspire actress Meryl Streep’s character in the film ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, crediting Lagarde’s "unassailable elegance and authority."
A health-conscious, physically fit vegetarian at age 65, her pearl continues to grow and strengthen as current President of the European Central Bank, and we can expect to see Christine’s legacy of strong leadership continue for years to come.