Meet Leena Nair, Chanel's new Indian-origin Global CEO

Meet Leena Nair, Chanel's new Indian-origin Global CEO

The first female and youngest-ever Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) at FMCG major Unilever Leena Nair stepped down to join the French luxury fashion group Chanel as its Global CEO.

Leena Nair Leena Nair

The first female and youngest-ever Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) at FMCG major Unilever Leena Nair has stepped down to join the French luxury fashion group Chanel as its Global CEO. She will be based in London. “Leena Nair, CHRO, has decided to leave the company in January 2022 to pursue a new career opportunity as Global Chief Executive Officer, Chanel Ltd,” Unilever said in a statement.

“I will always be a proud advocate of Unilever and its ambition to make sustainable living commonplace. Overwhelmed by the love and support my appointment as Chanel CEO has got. Thank you! Please trust that I am reading every comment, even if I don’t reply to everyone individually,” Nair tweeted.


Leena Nair was associated with Unilever for 30 years and she started out as a management trainee in the company in 1992. After this, she assumed roles like Factory Personnel Manager of Lipton India from 1993-96, Employee Relations Manager at HUL from 1996-97, Management Development Planning Manager of HUL from 1997-2000, HR Manager of Home and Personal Care India from 2003-04, General Manager HR of Home and Personal Care India and General Manager of HR IND in 2006, as per her LinkedIn profile.

As per her profile, Nair was appointed as the General Manager of HPC and Foods and Head of Management Development from August 2006-May 2007 and she also held office as the Executive Director, HUL and Human Resources VP, South Asia from June 2007- December 2012. She served Unilever as the SVP of Leadership and Organisation Development and Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion from January 2013-February 2-16. After this, she was appointed as Unilever’s CHRO in March 2016 and will leave this post in January 2022 to hold the reigns in Chanel as the global CEO.


During her stint as Unilever’s CHRO, she undertook initiatives like formulating a four-pillar Wellbeing Framework to address the physical, mental, emotional and purposeful wellbeing for employees in 2014. Nair believes that employee’s wellbeing is at the heart of any organisation’s success.

During her tenure, Unilever gave its employees a day off as a gesture of thanks for their services in the trying times of the coronavirus pandemic under the 2020 Global Day of Thanks. “Today at Unilever, there will be no team calls, no emails, no work for many of us. Those that can’t take today because they are keeping things running will be given an additional day off before the end of 2020,” she said in a LinkedIn post.

Besides this, they also launched The Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health in January 2021. The initiative is founded by Unilever, Salesforce, HSBC, Deloitte, Clifford Chance and BHP. Under this collaboration, Unilever focused on 3 key areas – creating a platform for collaboration to address mental health concerns in the workplace, raising awareness around the importance of mental health at workplace and facilitating the adoption of best practice through the collaboration and creation of a roadmap to change the prevailing situation.

Due to Nair’s vision, Unilever has also rolled out two mental health tools – Headspace and Employee Assistance Program to survey and monitor their employees’ mental health. Unilever employees have free access to Headspace and they spent 15,000+ hours developing their mindfulness using the app. Its Employee Assistance Programme or EAP saw a more than 10 percent increase in employee’s family members accessing the service in 2020. The company also has annual wellbeing survey, annual employee engagement survey and monthly unipulse checks.

In another LinkedIn post, Nair advised HR professionals to “walk with swagger” as it is a vital part of running a successful business. Nair wrote in her post, “I always tell HR people they need to WALK WITH SWAGGER! HR is no longer a backroom department, it’s a vital part of running any successful business. And if you want to support your people, you need to understand how the business works, and you need to be visible within the business. So get out there and make some waves!”

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