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France's Power Tower
Text by Shernaaz Engineer and Photograph by Ankur Chaturvedi
Published: Volume 15, Issue 1, January, 2007

Christine Lagarde, France's Minister for Foreign Trade and the first woman to head the executive committee of the famed law firm, Baker & McKenzie in Paris, was in Mumbai recently. Shernaaz Engineer met her for a quick tête-à-tête

Among the many things that make our experiences proverbially larger than life, myths are perhaps the most fascinating. More so when they appear to materialise, almost effortlessly, before our incredulous eyes. Take, for instance, the conjecture of the 'superwoman' and our obsession with wanting to have it all - and wondering, wistfully, if and when it will ever all fall perfectly into place.

And, then, there she is… Christine Lagarde, France's Minister for Foreign Trade, the high-flying former lawyer who was the first woman to head the executive committee of the famed law firm, Baker & McKenzie, walking determinedly in through the door to a roomful of Mumbai's glamorous opinion makers waiting to clink wine glasses with her. Tall, tanned, toned, in all-black and flaunting enough winking diamonds to underscore her successful status with elegant felicity. A commanding coiffure with not a steely strand daring to defy her composure, she makes herself comfortable in legal eagle Zia Mody's expansive, art-filled home, where a dinner is being hosted in her honour. This very poised power tower is a woman who has been on several Most Impressive Lists (including Forbes).

Lagarde chats, poses for pictures, takes in everything with a quick and careful eye and laughs a lot. She has been in India before, most recently in February last year with the French President when she visited New Delhi and wore a red and gold salwar kameez ("it was beautiful, Zia bought it for me") to a banquet at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. And, then, she has been to the beaches in Goa with Mody, who is a long-standing friend.

In December 2006, Lagarde returned, leading a delegation of 200 French businessmen from various industries and set up almost 2000 meetings to push trade between the two countries as part of her role as French Cabinet Minister for Trade. "It's all very exciting," she beams, rather pleased with herself. And she has every reason to be. It is said that exports from France reached record levels in 2005 and Lagarde is committed to an even stronger showing for 2006. She believes the market for French luxury brands in India will boom in the years to come. "Right now, it is like a little child taking its first steps. But, wait and watch, soon it will begin to run!" she guffaws with glee. "I always say," she continues, "that doing business is not a walk in the park, but a race for success." This, pretty much, sums up her own personal philosophy it would appear, as she has always been driven with the zeal to make it to the top.

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