Christine Lagarde: Facing down worldwide recession

Thrust into the breach during one of the worst economic crises in decades, Christine Lagarde, the new head of the IMF, has become one of the world's most powerful women

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Logan: And no second thoughts about taking this?

Lagarde: No. No regret, ever.

Inside the decidedly gloomy auditorium, Lagarde delivered some of those unpleasant truths.

[Lagarde: There are dark clouds over Europe and there is huge uncertainty in the United States.]

Uncertainty fueled by the turmoil in Greece, whose debt crisis threatened to bring down the rest of Europe. Lagarde played a critical role in forging a late-night deal to keep Greece from defaulting on its debt - at least for the moment. Then she turned to Italy, whose economy and debt problem are even larger. At the G20 summit earlier this month, she helped persuade the dysfunctional Italian government to accept IMF monitoring of its finances.

Logan: Do you think you could describe the IMF as a kind of financial fireman?

Lagarde: It's a fire brigade sometimes when there is a crisis. You know, we try to put out the fire. And we do so with rules and funds available that are always paid back. In other words, we say to a country, 'We will lend you money. We will support you. We will help you get out of that crisis. But you have to fix your problems.'

The IMF, with 187 member countries, is based in Washington, D.C. It sits on a fund of $842 billion. But that's not nearly enough to meet the potential needs of all the countries in Europe facing crippling debt. The U.S., the IMF's biggest contributor, is reluctant to put up any more money to bail out Europe. But member countries like Russia and China - that are flush with cash - have indicated they may be willing to help.

Lagarde: Letting Europe down is going to mean, if it was to happen, major consequences and negative consequences on many other economies, including the United States of America. Twenty percent of U.S. exports go to Europe. There is a very strong linkage between U.S. banks and European banks. There are plenty of European employees that are employed by U.S. companies, and there are plenty of U.S. employees that are employed by European companies.

Before Christine Lagarde's arrival in July, the IMF had a long-held reputation as something of a "boys' club."

Logan: The most obvious thing when you look at these walls is that it's all men up there, as the past directors of the IMF.

Lagarde: Quite right. Yes.

Logan: In lots of the things that you've done you've been the first woman. Does it matter to you? Is it important?

Lagarde: Well, what matters to me is that I'm not the last one.

Lagarde's success can be traced back to her life as a young girl in the port city of Le Havre in Normandy. She grew up in this house, the oldest of four and the only girl. Her parents were academics and home life was steeped in books and music - an idyllic childhood that changed dramatically when her father died after a long battle with ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease.

Logan: You were young when he died.

Lagarde: Yeah, I was 16.

Logan: So that must have been extremely difficult.

Lagarde: It was tough on all of us. My mother was young. She continued being strict and very demanding.

Logan: What kind of influence do you think your mother had on you?