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May 19, 2011 6:30 AM

NYT: French Finance Minister, Former Baker & McKenzie Head Favorite to Helm IMF

Posted by Ed Shanahan

Lagarde French finance minister Christine Lagarde has a lot going for her as a possible successor to former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the New York Times reports.

Lagarde, 55, who led the global law firm Baker & McKenzie as its first female chairman from 1999 to 2004, doesn't pull any punches, carries a good deal of clout in the world of international finance, and she's a woman. The last credential, the paper notes, can't hurt the IMF at this crucial point, as the organization is working to get back on track and back to business in an effort to distance itself from the sexual assault scandal surrounding Kahn. (Kahn issued a letter of resignation as managing director of the IMF late Wednesday.)

"What's happened with Strauss-Kahn underscores how great it would be to have a woman in the role," Kenneth S. Rogoff, a Harvard University professor and a former IMF chief economist, told the Times.

Should she succeed Strauss-Kahn as chair of the IMF, Lagarde would be the first woman to run the fund. (Several media outlets have singled out Lagarde as a favorite, including Reuters and The Guardian.)

Gender is a factor, but that's secondary to her intellect and abilites, Rogoff said. "She is enormously impressive, politically astute, and a strong personality," he said.

One drawback that's getting a lot of attention is Lagarde's French nationality. For 26 of the past 33 years, the IMF has been led by a French national, Reuters reports. The backlash in the wake of Strauss-Kahn's alleged assault could make it that much harder for another French person to be elected. Also, the current state of affairs reportedly has set off a power play within the IMF, as emerging market countries are expected to try and break Europe's long-standing hold on the job, according to Reuters.

Lagarde, for her part, has not commented about the succession speculation, the Times reports. Citing analysts, the paper notes that her main competition is Kemal Dervis, a former finance minister of Turkey.

A labor and antitrust lawyer, Lagarde joined Baker & McKenzie in 1981; she was elected chairman of the firm in October 1999. As The American Lawyer reported in the fall of 2008, under Lagarde's leadership, a new generation of firm leaders started to emerge. "[Lagarde] is credited with adding teeth to quality control and rallying people behind the firm," the magazine reporter. One former partner said of her, "When Christine walked into the room, you knew who was in charge."

 

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Click here for more on the governance structure of the IMF. 

 

 

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