Whenever Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde is mentioned in the news, I turn to my husband and say, “You know I met her, don’t you?” As the first woman to hold the IMF post, Madame Lagarde is without doubt one of the most powerful women in the world (she ranks #35 on Forbes Magazine’s Powerful People list). And I met her – once upon a time.
For those who witnessed her extended interview last night on ABC’s Q&A, there is no denying that Madame Lagarde is a rare breed – a politician who really listens, responds thoughtfully, is deeply knowledgeable across scores of issues and can calmly and clearly explain connections between and consequences of policy impacting economics, business and civic society on a global scale. Whether you agree or not with the premise and decisions of the organisation she represents, it would be wonderful to see more leaders like Madame Lagarde working intelligently and inclusively to make a difference in the world and using their profile positively to bring awareness to issues – such as the need for greater investment in health and education – that affect us all now and in the future.
Before she became the first female Finance Minister of France and the first female head of the IMF, in 1999 Madame Lagarde was elected as the first female global chair of Baker & McKenzie, which at the time was the largest law firm in the world. Back then I was a Marketing Coordinator in Baker & McKenzie’s Sydney office. Soon after her election, it was announced that Madame Lagarde would visit our office for a few days as part of the Australian leg of a global roadshow, enabling her to meet the firm’s local Partners, staff and clients. I began working with my boss to schedule events, meetings and media commitments for Madame Lagarde. It was a very exciting time and we wanted everything to be perfect.
When Madame Lagarde arrived in Sydney she did not disappoint – indeed she dazzled. In the time we spent with her between meetings, she was elegant, articulate and very forthcoming with advice. She talked about swimming (she was a national synchronised swimming champion in France) and her children (two sons now in their twenties) and women in the workplace. Less importantly – but notably – she also had impeccable taste in jewellery. At the time I didn’t realise how lucky I was to have this small exchange of information with Madame Lagarde. She was amazing and I have not been at all surprised over the years to see her elevated further on the world’s stage.
My meeting with Madame Lagarde came just before I was married and before I’d hatched plans to have children. Now, a decade and a half down the track, as an experienced working mother and more advanced in my career, I wish I had asked Madame Lagarde for more specific advice on the juggle of balancing family and career. Back then her boys would have been similar to the ages that my sons are now. I’m sure she would have had valuable tips and insight which she would have been very willing to share. Last night as I watched Q&A, however, Madame Lagarde had this to say to me and all women on this very issue:
“From my personal experience, you don’t necessarily succeed on all fronts at the same time. So you should try to be yourself, do your best, and have as much confidence as you can in what you do, and not hesitate to call for help from other women, from other men, from family members, from husband, companion, however, because it’s a joint operation. It’s not flying solo.”
So every time I remind my husband that a long time ago I met Madame Lagarde, he smiles and indulges me by listening intently as I recount the story, because he understands that she left an impression on me and that all these years later she continues to impress.
Did you see Madame Lagarde on Q&A? What did you think? Were you impressed?