CHICAGO, June 28 (Xinhua) -- French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde made history Tuesday by becoming the first female managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and her appointment received wide praise in Chicago, where she once served as chairman of one of the world's largest law firms.
At the same time, international finance experts agree Lagarde's leadership and financial skills will be immediately tested with the current crisis in Greece that is threatening to undermine Europe and the entire global economy.
"Christine was an effective leader who used her intellect, discipline and diplomacy to take our firm to new heights," the law firm Baker & McKenzie said in a statement to Xinhua. "As the first female chair of a global law firm, she inspired so many of us with her grace, humanity and consensus-building approach, leaving a lasting impact on our firm and on the legal profession."
Those skills would prove helpful as Lagarde navigates the turbulent current economic and political landscape, said Prof. Martin Eichenbaum, co-director of the Center for International Economics and Development at Chicago's Northwestern University.
"Christine Lagarde is a very distinguished figure with a lot of experience," Eichenbaum told Xinhua. "I think what she brings to the table is perhaps common sense and political expertise."
Eichenbaum, who also serves as a consultant at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said Lagarde's most immediate task is to address the Greek fiscal problem, which is now degenerating into violence, while keeping a close eye on the continuing global imbalances.
"The number one priority, the number one crisis that we're all facing right now is Europe," he said. "We all have to have the European situation resolved."
"I hope she does well, and I actually think she has the financial skills to do well," Eichenbaum said.
Lagarde, 55, will officially take over the IMF post on July 5. But as the current finance minister of France and member of the influential G-20 ministers that coordinated the multi-billion dollars in bailouts around the world, she is familiar with the crises in Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
With her victory, France maintains its 65-year stronghold of the IMF post. But it also followed controversy over the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn on allegations that he sexually assaulted a hotel maid in New York.
"The IMF desperately needs a stable leadership," Eichenbaum said. "She really does face the extraordinary challenge of making the IMF less Euro-American-centric and more inclusive."
While her main background is in international law, holding the French finance portfolio gives her a "good deal of on-the-job economic training" to deal with bigger job responsibilities at the IMF, University of Michigan's Ross School of Business Prof. Marina Whitman told Xinhua.
"Under present circumstances, I think she is a good choice," Whitman said, pointing out that Lagarde has no time for a honeymoon as she needs "to put out fires," especially in Europe.
As the first female head of the IMF, Lagarde's victory is auspicious, especially after the sex scandal involving Strauss-Kahn, said Whitman, herself a former chief economist of General Motors Corporation.
"I don't for a minute want to suggest that [gender] somehow gave her an edge," Whitman said. "I think if she had been a man with the same qualifications, she still would have been a very strong candidate."
During her visit to Chicago on March 25 to receive the Global Woman Leader of the Year Award, Lagarde herself touched on the "imbalance" of leadership between men and women in many corporations around the world.
"Imbalance is what we deal with very much, and this balance between genders, this balance between men and women in society wherever we are, either at the top, in the middle or at the bottom is something that we need to improve," Lagarde told her audience in Chicago, where she worked from 1981 until she became France's trade minister in 2005.
She also touted her role in coordinating the global bailout package, the re-initiation of the financial systems and the prevention of protectionism and raising of tariffs by countries spooked by the economic crisis that started in 2007.
Meanwhile, Whitman also pointed out that with strong competition for the post by Bank of Mexico Governor Agustin Carstens, the "groundwork has been laid" in opening the IMF selection process to candidates coming from the world's emerging economies.
Whitman argued that the next time the leadership post of the IMF or the World Bank opens, it should be given to a representative from the emerging economies, not to yet another European or U.S. candidate.