Who is Leena Nair? The Indian-Origin Chanel's Global CEO

Adding another name to the list of Indian CEOs of global brands, Leela Nair has been named the luxury brand Chanel’s global CEO. Chanel is the French luxury fashion house 1910, Paris France by Coco Chanel at the age of 27. Today, the 111-year-old brand, Chanel is owned by Chanel Limited parent organization.
Who is Leena Nair? The Indian-Origin Chanel's Global CEO
Who is Leena Nair? The Indian-Origin Chanel's Global CEO

Who is Leena Nair? The Indian-Origin Chanel's Global CEO

Amidst the debate about seeing Global CEOs from Indian-origin as a milestone or as the brain drain of India’s talent, another Indian-origin Global CEO, Leela Nair marks her place in the top role of one of the biggest luxury brands in the world, Chanel.

The news of the Unilever top executive taking the reins of the luxury fashion brand is truly a surprise for the world as they witnessed the Indian-origin Parag Agarwal becoming Twitter global CEO not even a month ago. Leena, the London-based Indian announced her new position with the Twitter post saying, “I am humbled and honoured to be appointed the Global Chief Executive Officer of @Chanel, an iconic and admired company.”

This is Leela Nair’s official statement after becoming the first Indian-origin global CEO of Chanel. She also thanked everyone wishing her on teh new role!

Chanel’s owner and billionaire, Alain Wertheimer who co-owns the company with his brother Gerard Wertheimer, would leave his role as CEO and move to be the global executive chairman.

Leela Nair has been representing Unilever, the consumer goods brand as the CHRO or Chief Human Resource Officer for the past three decades. She has taken up the role at a time when the brand is recovering from the pandemic-induced fall.

Engineering College, A Preparation Ground For Male Dominated World

An insight into her journey tells us that Nair was born in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, and studied electronics and telecommunications engineering at Walchand College in Sangli. Here, her college male-female ratio of 3000 boys and 18 girls made represented the male-dominated world and prepared her to make her space in the same.

She decided to pursue an MBA from XLRI, Jamshedpur in Human Resources instead of engineering, in 1992 and was awarded a gold medal. Soon after graduating she worked at three different factories in Kolkata, Ambattur, Tamil Nadu and Taloja, Maharashtra.

Leena Nair's Career, The Tale of Firsts

If you believe, that being Chanel’s first Indian-origin CEO is the only first in Nair’s career, well, it must be a surprise for you to know that Nair’s journey is driven through being the first in her career.

She was the first woman to ask for “night shifts” and the first woman to be on the “management committee”. She learned about factory and production, the shop-floor ecosystem, [and] the importance of resilience. Often her conversation started with how something has never been done before and is impossible. To which she has positively replied with “How we can do it?”

From starting her career as a management trainee at Unilever in 1992 to become the “the first Asian, first female, and youngest” CHRO of Unilever in 2016, the 52 old Leena Nair has navigated through quite a journey and achieved something unheard of.

Leena Nair's Roles at Unilever

After she kickstarted her journey in 1992 with Unilever, she rose to different positions and learned in the company. In one year of joining, she became Factory Personnel Manager of Lipton (India) Ltd in 1993 which was followed by being the Employee Relations Manager of Hindustan Lever in 1996 and Management Development Planning Manager of Hindustan Lever in 1997.

Her emphasis on diversity and inclusion as a part of Unilever can be seen through the boost of women in the workforce from 3% to 30 % today. Another first in her journey was in 2007 when she became the first woman ever to be a part of the Management Committee of Unilever in 90 years to head the HR department. She then became the first woman ever to be a part of the Unilever South Asia Leadership Team.

Her 30 years journey has been one of the pioneers in cultural diversity, unity, and inclusion as a CHRO. She also contributed as a member of the ULE or Unilever Leadership Executive.

Being The Second To Mentor Nooyi

Yes, Leena Nair is second in one spot. She is the second woman from India-origin to be a Global CEO of the leading brand post-Indra Nooyi, Former Global CEO of PepsiCo. Indra Nooyi is the mentor to Nair.

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New Innings

Today, she is the first Indian ever to be heading the management of the luxury designer label replacing Alain who served as the Global CEO since 2016 when Mauren Chiquet exited the brand.

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