Christine Lagarde took over the International Monetary Fund in July after the arrest on charges of sexual assault of former managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn (the charges were later dismissed). Since then, Lagarde, the former French finance minister, has been preoccupied with problems emanating from Europe. She has been trying to manage demands from outside the region, and within her own agency , for quicker action from Europe’s slow-moving political machinery. The agency has noticeably tried to step up the pressure on debt-ridden Greece, and Lagarde led a very public push for action to shore up European banks. But the crisis still festers. She sat recently for an interview to review her first months in the job.
Q: The takeover from the previous managing director came with some tumult. You said you felt the agency needed healing. Six months after the fact, were those problems more or less acute than you expected? At a speech not long after your arrival you said the agency did not have the luxury to spend too much time on itself.
A: I was very pleasantly surprised by the willingness and determination of people to acknowledge the good things that had been done prior to me arriving, but also to turn the page and move on with new projects and a new spirit and a new approach. In that sense the healing was not a painful or lengthy exercise. At least that is how I perceived it. We don’t talk about it. Next chapter.
Q: The first weeks, when you held a series of staff meetings, was there any latent anger out there? What was the emotional climate?
A: I perceived it as a relief. Let’s get on with the work. Let’s focus. We have new management in place. We are not going to constantly look at our belly button and wonder if we are sad, angry or frustrated. It is an institution of people with brains and enthusiasm and a sense that we want to do a good job. Provide the best advice. Give the best analysis. Focus on the right program.
Q: People did feel that Dominique Strauss-Kahn had a somewhat autocratic style – known for asserting his prerogative to decide, limiting participation in different staff meetings and keeping the flow of information fairly compartmentalized. What has changed under your management? How do you do things differently?
A: I can’t tell because I was not working and participating in anything under the prior leadership, so I’m not going to pass a judgment on how things were done. What I hear is that I am more team-minded. I work with the group. I tend to elicit views from the other deputy managing directors. I bring the heads of department together much more frequently. That is my way of doing things. I try to bring people together. I hear all the views. I spend the time that is necessary. It is probably more time-consuming than a more autocratic way of reaching decisions, but it is my way.
Q: During the search for a new managing director there was debate about whether you would be able to steer the agency as a non-economist. Have you felt that to be as much of an issue as was made of it at the time?