High-flyer Emmanuel Macron enjoyed a meteoric rise from investment banker to economy minister but the reform-minded prodigy faces an uphill climb in his bid to become Frances youngest-ever president.

In his two years in President Francois Hollande's government, 38-year-old Macron confronted Socialist orthodoxy head-on, questioning the 35-hour work week -- a totem of the French left.

His business-friendly policies riled many leftist colleagues and activists.

During a public outing in June, trade unionists pelted him with eggs.

"If approval was a criterion in this country, nothing would ever get done," Macron said last year.

His willingness to defy convention -- saying he is "neither of the left or the right" -- also extends to his personal life.

At 16, he fell in love with a teacher from his high school -- a woman some 20 years his senior -- and they have been married since 2007.

In August, Macron resigned from the government to prepare his presidential bid, repudiating his mentor Hollande, who is considering standing for a second term despite disastrous approval ratings.

Over the past few months Macron has travelled the country with his "En Marche" (On the Move) movement to take the political temperature before honing his programme.

A poll last month showed 49 percent of the French having a favourable opinion of him.

Among leftists, however, he has work to do to win over voters to his unique brand of compassionate liberalism.

Machiavelli expert

Born in the northern French city of Amiens, Macron has a masters in philosophy, writing his dissertation on Machiavelli, who theorised the scheming nature of statecraft, and German philosopher Hegel.

He then followed the well-trodden path to France's political class by graduating from the elite Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA). Macron also found time along the way to learn German and become an award-winning pianist.

After a short spell as a tax inspector, he was snapped up by the Rothschild banking group in 2008.

He quickly climbed the ranks, brokering a deal between food giant Nestle and pharmaceuticals company Pfizer that earned him millions in commission.

In 2011, he advised Hollande during the Socialist leader's rise to the presidency, even as the candidate declared the world of finance to be his enemy.

The following year, Hollande appointed Macron to his staff and two years later, to general surprise, promoted the political unknown to economy minister.

Macron's first big test in office was to convince the change-averse French to accept reforms aimed at reviving growth and employment, for example by allowing shops to open more often on Sundays and liberalising inter-city bus travel.

The measures sparked angry protests.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a potential rival for the presidency in the event Hollande decides against running, ultimately had to force the "Macron law" through parliament without a vote, to prevent leftist rebel MPs from sinking it.

Work for your suit

Macron's marriage to a divorcee with three children has titillated the French media, usually cautious about delving into politicians' private lives.

His wife Brigitte Trogneux told Paris Match magazine in April: "At the age of 17, Emmanuel said to me: 'Whatever you do, I will marry you!'"

His attempt to chart a midway course between the left and the right has gained him a following among young, cosmopolitan liberals.

It is these "winners from globalisation", as the daily Le Monde described them, who flock to his rallies, along with business figures.

His appeal among the wider electorate remains untested, however, and he has certainly rubbed many up the wrong way.

In June, angry union activists hurled eggs at Macron over his advice to a member of the powerful CGT union that "the best way to afford a suit is to work".