Career Lessons From Christine Lagarde

By Janet Fowler | March 19, 2012 AAA
Career Lessons From Christine Lagarde

With March bringing International Women's Day, it's naturally a time when we look to the women of the world who have been truly inspirational. Christine Lagarde, appointed leader of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2011, is undoubtedly one of the most powerful women in the world; Forbes ranked her as the 9th most powerful woman in the world and the 39th most powerful person overall. Using her career progression as a guide, the young women of today can follow in her footsteps in becoming leaders in the world of finance and politics.

Get a Great Education
Christine Lagarde undoubtedly obtained a top-notch education. She was born in 1956 in Paris, France, to a family of scholars. Her father was a professor of English and her mother a teacher. Christine spent her younger years studying language and culture and she was exposed to the ideas of American culture, which was not necessarily the standard at that time in France.

After graduating, Christine received a scholarship to study at a prestigious girls' school in the state of Maryland. This was then followed with her return to France and more schooling at the University Paris X where she obtained a degree in law. She applied to attend Ecole Nationale D'Administration (ENA), a school that most who aspire to become French civil servants attend. Disappointingly, her application was declined twice. Choosing not to let this disappointment hold her back, she continued her education with a Master's Degree in political science from the Institute of Political Studies in Aix-en-Provence.

Practice Law
Christine Lagarde officially began her career as a lawyer with Baker & McKenzie, a large international law firm based in the United States. Christine's legal career primarily involved antitrust and labor cases. She quickly became known for her determination and she made partner with the firm, later becoming head of the firm for Western Europe. Years later, her role with Baker & McKenzie progressed even further when she became a member of the firm's executive committee, and was the first female chairman of the company in 1999.

Get Involved in Politics
Christine had an interest in politics throughout her life. When she was in college, she served as a congressional assistant to William Cohen, who later worked under President Bill Clinton as Secretary of Defense. She further pursued this interest in 2005 when she became France's Trade Minister. Christine progressed through a number of minister roles in France's government during her political career, including Agricultural Minister, and finally Finance and Economy Minister. In her political career, Christine encouraged the government to explore new export markets and to further develop France's technology sector. Her role as the Finance Minister was also remarkable for the fact that she was the first female in any G7 country to take on this high-profile position.

Think Globally
Luckily for Christine, she was exposed to global perspectives by her forward-thinking parents at a young age. Christine also was lucky enough to study overseas, helping to further expose her to international political and financial ideologies. She has homes in both the U.S., her base as IMF leader, and in France. Her global perspective certainly highlights the importance of being exposed to global politics and ideologies when seeking high-ranking finance careers, something that has undoubtedly prepared her for her position with the IMF.

Find Strong Role Models
Sadly, Christine's father passed away when she was a teenager. She was lucky enough to have several strong female role models in her life to help guide her to success. Of these role models, she notes that she was impacted greatly by her mother, her first boss who she described as a strong female and her grandmother who had been a nurse during World War I. Christine recognizes the fact that she herself has become a role model for young women, seeing this as an important responsibility.

Follow the Advice of Christine Lagarde
Christine was recently interviewed by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. In this interview, Christine had advice for young women who want to pursue financial careers. "Dare. That is number one," suggesting that taking a chance is the most important part of making your career aspirations come to fruition. "Number two is educate yourself, improve your skills." Christine also goes on to say that women are becoming more likely to help and support other women who are working toward achieving their career goals. "It wasn't the case, you know, in my day. There were very few instances in which women would help other women. I think that has changed enormously."

She also suggests that all young people must be innovative in educating themselves and creating their own careers as the workplace evolves, suggesting that the jobs of today are different than jobs of generations past.

The Bottom Line
Christine Lagarde is certainly a great role model - she's a strong figure in the world of finance who young women across the globe can aspire to be like. Christine has faced her share of struggles in achieving her position within the IMF, and she is sure to face more challenges in the future as she helps to sort out the unstable financial situation across much of the globe. There's no doubt that she's up to the challenge. In an interview with Forbes from 2009, Christine says "I hate to say there are female and male ways of dealing with power, because I think each of us has a male and a female part. But based on my own experience, women will tend to be more inclusive, to reach out more, to care a little more." Perhaps in the evolving work world that Christine predicts, there will be a greater value placed on what women can bring to the table, as Christine Lagarde has certainly paved the road for many future financial-minded women to follow in her footsteps.

SEE: 8 Ultra-Rich Women Investors

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