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How hardship fueled Lagarde's success
02:54 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Leading Women connects you to extraordinary women of our time. This month we’re celebrating ‘“Money Women” with a special series looking at the women who control global finance. We start with an in-depth interview with Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Foundation (IMF).

Story highlights

She's the face of the IMF, but how well do you know her?

Five surprising facts about French financial powerhouse, Christine Lagarde

Says death of her father as a teenager was 'a pivotal moment'

CNN  — 

In a line-up of the world’s financial heavyweights, Christine Lagarde commands attention. At almost 6ft tall, with a head of silver hair and year-long tan, the first female to lead the International Monetary Fund instantly stands out in the notoriously masculine world of finance.

When the fifth most powerful woman in the world according to Forbes takes to the stage, journalists make sure their pens are poised. And in a time of economic austerity – not to mention scandal allegations regarding the IMF’s former managing director – the media spotlight on Lagarde is fierce.

But away from the camera lens, what personal events shaped the 59-year-old financial leader we know today?

Here are five things you might not know about Lagarde.

1.) Her father died of a motor neuron disease when she was a teenager

“Clearly the death of my father when I was 16 was a pivotal moment because you suddenly realize the hardship, the pain,” Lagarde told CNN’s Gabriella Frias.

“It certainly provided me with a better understanding of how tough it can be for a single mother to raise kids.”

2.) She was a member of the French national synchronized swim team

Lagarde won a bronze medal in the French National Championship when she was just 15-years-old.

Synchronized swimming might also have more in common with politics than you think. “It was synchronized swimming that taught me: ‘Grit your teeth and smile,’” Lagarde told the Guardian.

3.) She once walked out of an important job interview

“It was when I applied to the biggest law firm in Paris and I was told that I would be a great recruit and that I would be given good work to do – but that I should never expect to make partnership because I was a woman,” Lagarde told CNN.

“I thought to myself: ‘You don’t deserve me, I’m going.’ And I had that sense of extraordinary freedom, walking down the staircase and thinking to myself: ‘What would I do in this firm? Why would I work with that kind of attitude?”

4.) She twice failed to enter France’s National School of Administration, the elite school for civil servants

“For a while I felt sort of held back and I decided: ‘No, no, no, no, no, no you have to get over it,’” Lagarde told CNN.

“You need to try to take the learnings from that failure and ask yourself: ‘Why did I fail?’ Then you learn about it and you move on.”

5.) She was born on New Year’s Day

It’s perhaps fitting that the IMF boss – who oversees the world’s finances – was born on such a neat date.

The eldest sister to three brothers, Lagarde was raised in Normandy to an English professor father and Latin teacher mother.

Read: Can failing be good for your career?

Watch: Lagarde on leading through crisis

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