Leena Nair – from Unilever people pioneer to CEO of Chanel

Leena Nair – from Unilever people pioneer to CEO of Chanel

Leena Nair – how did she get there?

Leena arrived at the doors of Unilever in February 1992. After securing an MBA from India’s oldest business school (XLRI), she secured a graduate management trainee role at Unilever in Hindustan, where she worked her way up from the factory floor. 

Cutting her teeth on a handful of managerial roles in employee relations and in HR, Leena landed her first leadership role in 2006 as general manager of HPC and Foods and Head of Management Development, where she led the move of the company’s Foods business from Bangalore to Mumbai and created a model for building capability that is now used company-wide. 

Within 10 months, she was promoted, becoming the first woman on the Unilever South Asia leadership team. Responsible for the firm’s growth in five markets with a business size of US$6.75bn, it was here that Leena embedded performance culture as a way of life for Unilever, improving productivity levels by 33% within two years and transforming employee relations into a proactive employee-centric function. 

Flash forward six years, Leena is promoted to Global SVP Leadership and Organisation Development and Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion, where she was instrumental in driving the company’s employer brand to a record high and advancing the diversity agenda to industry leadership. She also spearheaded the creation of a world-class leadership centre in Singapore and was the lead on key technology innovations simplifying the firm’s core HR offerings. 

It was in 2016 when Leena finally landed the top HR job. Relocating to London in 2016, she took the global HR reins as CHRO of Unilever and ran with it. 

And why wouldn’t she? For someone whose purpose is to “ignite the human spark for a better business and better world”, Leena was certainly living her dream job. And she was recognised for it with HRH Queen Elizabeth II acknowledging Leena as one of the most accomplished Indian business leaders in the UK. 

And now, in 2023, as human-centred leadership becomes increasingly critical to business success, Leena continues to bring her own unique brand of diverse leadership and passion for people and purpose to the business of fashion – leading the 112-year-old French fashion house, which employs 27,000 people globally and achieved revenues of US$15.6bn in 2021, into a more diverse and inclusive future, as it looks to tap into the Chinese and other global luxury markets.

“I am so inspired by what Chanel stands for,” says Leena. “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.”

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