Leena Nair is a British Indian business executive and is the first female CEO of the French luxury brand Chanel. Prior to that, the 52-year-old was the first female and youngest-ever Chief Human Resources Officer of Unilever - a position she resigned from to join the iconic group in January 2022.
With Chanel, she has joined the ranks of Indian-origin executives like Sundar Pichai, Parag Agrawal, and Satya Nadella who are at the helm of top global companies. Nair, who at Unilever oversaw 160,000 people, is based in London in her new role.
According to her, she was born in Kolhapur with not many educational facilities and grew up having lots of norms, taboos and barriers around her about what girls can do and can’t do.
An Electronics and Telecommunications Engineer from Walchand College of Engineering in Sangli, Maharashtra, she did her MBA in Human Resources from XLRI Jamshedpur in 1992 before joining as a trainee at HUL, where she advanced up the ranks.
Nair is a rare outsider, being hailed as a "serial glass-ceiling breaker" at the helm of the tightly controlled family fashion house, which was founded in 1910 by fashion legend Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel. Today Chanel is known for its tweed suits, quilted handbags, and No. 5 perfume.
During her 25-year career at Unilever, the company has been named the number one FMCG graduate employer of choice in 54 countries.
At HUL, over a period of 10 years starting 2010, she helped the company achieve a 50/50 gender balance across global leadership.
She was also a member of the Unilever Leadership Executive which is responsible for delivering Unilever’s business financial performance and its ambitious environmental and positive social impact objectives. Her agenda at HUL also included a commitment to pay the living wage across its whole supply chain.
Recognised by Queen Elizabeth II as one of the accomplished Indian business leaders in the UK, she was also named in Fortune India's Most Powerful Women's list in 2021.