Chanel has picked Leena Nair as its new Global Chief Executive Officer. Nair, who holds the distinction of being the first female, first Asian and youngest-ever Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) of fast-moving consumer goods company Unilever, will reportedly join the French luxury fashion house in January 2022. The news about the industry outsider’s impressive feat made a huge splash in India, Nair’s birthplace. Fellow Indians see her appointment as a sign of the rising status of their country's business leaders, especially women. The trail-blazing Nair is also sure to help Chanel boost its diversity and inclusion goals.
“I am so inspired by what Chanel stands for. It is a company that believes in the freedom of creation, in cultivating human potential and in acting to have a positive impact in the world,” the 52-year-old Nair, who will manage over 27,000 people globally from London, said.
However, the longtime executive at Unilever is not the first woman to be CEO of the world-famous brand. Françoise Montenay was CEO and President of Chanel SA, while American Maureen Chiquet was CEO for almost a decade, from 2007 until 2016. Nair is succeeding billionaire Co-Owner and Chairman of privately-held Chanel, Alain Wertheimer, The grandson of Chanel Co-Founder Pierre Wertheimer, who took over from Chiquet, will have the Global Executive Chair title at the house that recently recently unveiled its "Métiers d’Art" collection at its new centre for specialty workshops on the outskirts of Paris.
According to a press release from Chanel, Nair, who was recently awarded the Great British Businesswoman Role Model of the Year award, has “built a global reputation for progressive and human centered leadership, delivering significant business impact.” The release also described her as a “highly respected visionary leader, whose ability to champion a long-term, purpose-driven agenda is matched with a consistently strong record of business outcomes.”
Nair, who has an MBA from India’s XLRI Jamshedpur, has spent 30 years at Unilver. She joined the Anglo-Dutch giant in 1992 as a management trainee of Hindustan Lever in India. She advanced up the ranks and by 2006 she had become General Manager HR of Hindustan Lever. In 2013 Nair became Senior Vice President HR Leadership and Organizational Development and global head of diversity. The mother of two, who has described India-born former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi as a friend and mentor, took up her role as CHRO in 2016, overseeing 150,000 employees. Nair is also a member of the Unilever Leadership Executive, a non-executive member of British Telecom and a member of the Board of the Leverhulme Trust. She was also a non-executive director on the U.K. Government’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department.