In 2011, one of the most popular and common words in the Greek media was the acronym PSI. Together with the already known Credit Default Swaps and Spread-indexes it abounded in interviews, comments and even in conversations among ordinary people. PSI or Private Sector Involvement, the participation of the private sector in the restructuring of the Greek debt, is actually a woman's work. It was proposed by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and its successful end was due to the extremely elegant Michelle Lamarche of the consulting firm Lazard Ltd.
As Bloomberg points out, the slim, blond lady aged 63, took up with the deal in its most difficult phase in December 2011. The talks with private creditors reached a dead end at that time and an unusual solution was necessary to convince them. "We had to work something out. The alternative, Greece exiting the euro, was too dramatic for everybody. Sometimes you need to sit down with the other side, talk bluntly and in total confidence," recalls Michelle Lamarche in an interview with Bloomberg.
It becomes clear four months later that in December 2011, she held a series of secret talks with private creditors of Greece, starting with a 30-minute meeting in Paris with the strong figure of the French BNP Paribas Jean Lemierre. Greek PSI was to infamously become history, when the ambitious lady from Lazard undertook and saved it through her secret meetings with key players in the market of Greek securities. Together with two colleagues, they concluded that the creditors should be offered a "ruse", "bait", "magnet" to win them over to the cause of debt restructuring.
The task is complex enough, as investors must be convinced to voluntarily agree to lose € 206 billion. The "magnet" turns out to be the cash, which all creditors would receive if they voluntarily agreed to the procedure. Michelle Lamarche has an excellent reputation in her professional surroundings. On behalf of Lazard Ltd., she has negotiated such deals in Argentina, Ivory Coast and Iraq. She is currently getting ready to play her role in the debt deals of Portugal and Spain.
She acknowledged before Bloomberg that the Greek deal was the most difficult in her career because of the many organizations and countries involved in it. She is one of the rare women who are around the table of negotiations of major sovereign debt restructuring. Beyond her 30 years of experience, she is known for her contacts, which help to reach a mutually acceptable solution in the most tangled situation. "The secret ingredient is to find creditors who share my objective to reach a deal."
Michelle Lamarche is distinguished for her unique style. She is fond of Dior suits and Christian Louboutin high heels. She was born in Algeria in the family of a French colonel. She left North Africa in 1962 and settled in Paris where she participated in the student riots of May 1968. Maybe her interest to major world crises dates back to that time.
The bigger the debt reduction achieved by Michelle Lamarche, the larger the fees for Lazard. In the case of Greek debt, where creditor losses reached 93 per cent in current values, the consulting firm received 23 million euro in two years. "Michelle Lamarche never got much publicity for her work, and she isn’t the type to care," says Luce Gendry from mergers-and-acquisitions bank Rothschild, who has known her since college.