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16.10.2023 Today’s Inspiration from – Leena Nair – Chanel CEO and Former Unilever CHRO

16.10.2023 Today’s Inspiration from – Leena Nair – Chanel CEO and Former Unilever CHRO
Dear Students,
Being the “first” can be scary – and it can also be wonderful. Leena Nair, the newest CEO of Chanel, is, as the article below highlights, “a woman of many firsts.” She was the first female, first Asian and youngest-ever CHRO at Unilever. Starting at Unilever as a Summer Intern, Nair became a management trainee in her native India, rising to Executive Director of HR at Hindustan Unilever Limited, 15 years later.
Twenty years after her start at Unilever, Nair moved to Unilever global headquarters in London, and, in 2016, she acquired the three “firsts” mentioned above.
Even more impressive, Nair was next, surprisingly recruited to Chanel – moving to fashion and beauty from consumer products – a very different industry – and appointed CEO of Chanel in December of 2021, officially starting in January 2022. Nair is not the type of fixate on beauty, though – she completed a Bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering and graduated from a private business school, one of the oldest in India. Nair then opted to work in three different Unilever factories, to steep herself in company issues and opportunities. At Chanel, Nair felt a similar drive to fully understand the operation, “visiting over 100 company retail locations, manufacturing sites and regional offices in her first year.”
Along with appearing on various leadership lists, including Forbes India’s Top Self-Made Women’s List and Fortune India’s Most Powerful Women’s List, Nair counts among her external roles Steering Committee membership in the Future of Education, Gender and Work, part of the World Economic Forum. Notably, Nair also appears on the Thinkers50 List, Thinkers who will Shape the Future of Business and as a LinkedIn Top Voice from 2018-2020.
There’s no question that Leena’s presence leading the 112-year-old French fashion house brings light, innovation and energy to the of $16B+, 27,000+-strong global business. Her first name, in fact, means “light” or “ray of sunlight” in the Persian language. A true humanitarian, Nair was quoted as lauding Chanel for “cultivating human potential and in acting to have a positive impact in the world, partially through “striving to create a more diverse and inclusive organization.” She proudly admits to wanting Chanel “to be exemplary in the luxury sector, to show what excellence looks like in commitments in the environment and social sectors.”
It’s little wonder, then, that Nair thus also racked up two additional firsts in coming to Chanel – the first luxury brand CEO of Indian origin and the first from an HR background. In so doing, Chanel hailed her as having “built a global reputation for progressive and human-centered leadership.” Nair’s career contributions and interpersonal approach ought to inspire ambitious international students like you from all backgrounds – and across business functions and diverse industries – to see yourselves first and foremost as commercial professionals, to “deliver significant business impact,” per Chanel’s 2021 statement announcing her hire.