Posted inGlobalNews

Chanel’s CEO Leena Nair used to be a fashion outsider

Read more for the details on Leena Nair’s life and how she became global CEO of Chanel


Who is Leena Nair?

In 2022, Chanel, the French luxury fashion house, appointed its first-ever person of Indian origin as CEO. The 54-year-old business executive was born in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, and has successfully made her way to the position she is in now.

Nair studied Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering from Walchand College of Engineering in Sangli, Maharashtra. She further pursued an MBA in Human Resources from XLRI, Jamshedpur in 1992 as a gold medalist.

A glittering career was unimaginable for a small-town girl from Kolhapur, Maharashtra. In 1992, however, she joined Unilever as a management trainee, and after a three-decades-long and successful career at the company, she became Unilever’s “youngest ever, first female, first Asian” chief human resources officer in 2016. This came after the company relocated her to London to serve as senior vice president for leadership and organizational development. She moved on to Chanel soon after.

She even commemorated her 30 years at the company in an Instagram post. The caption reads, “I’m going to miss all of you more than I can express, and I leave with a heart full of love and pride for this incredible organization… Thank you for igniting my spark.”

Next stop on the journey: Chanel

Working at Unilever meant that Nair was an outsider to the luxury fashion world, including fashion brands such as Chanel. After working as a chief human resources officer, Nair’s purpose was “to ignite the human spark for better business and world”, and she continues to do so as the only woman of color leading a major global luxury brand.

Wanting to put people above anything else is what has been able to drive Nair to success. In 2021, she left Unilever and was appointed as global chief at Chanel. There, she helped increase funding for Fondation Chanel, which is a foundation that supports women and girls to be free to shape their own destinies. She was even one of the many people behind Chanel’s sustainability-focused beauty range for the climate-conscious beauty shopper.

She has explained on social media how inspired she is by what Chanel really stands for -humanity, stating “It is a company that believes in freedom of creation, cultivating human potential, and acting with purpose”.

On a recent visit to her hometown, she attended a school and spoke to students about her career. “It is very important to dream big. Do not let others tell you, rather you determine how big your dreams should be,” she said. “Don’t get discouraged if people doubt your abilities, because if I would have, I would have not reached where I am.”

Fun facts on Leena Nair

  • Leena Nair writes a gratitude journal every night and does a 20-minute meditation practice every morning to keep her life balanced.  
  • Walking, running and dancing are part of her regimen as she believes that reconnecting with one’s passions is important to keep going.  
  • Nair loves listening to Oprah Winfrey’s podcasts because she identifies with what Oprah says about purpose.  
  • She tries to learn a new skill every year, such as how to play the keyboard or learn a new language.
  • She believes in the power of mentors and reaches out to the people who inspire her. Nair considers Indra Nooyi, a few of her college professors, Sara Matthew, former CEO of Dun and Bradstreet, Niall FitzGerald, and John Stewart from Unilever as her mentors.  

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