Leena Nair is the new CEO of Chanel, in what many are calling the shattering of more than one glass ceiling.
Nair, 52, is being recruited from Unilever, the British megacorporation behind global brands like Dove, Axe, Lipton, and Magnum. She joined Unilever in 1992, and in nearly 30 years has worked her way from the company’s factories in Hindustan to her position as Chief Human Resource Officer. She attracted Chanel’s attention through her leadership of Unilever’s Diversity and Inclusion agenda. Nair is new to the fashion industry, but Chanel’s product lines are so diverse that fashion is now only a small part of their imprint.
“I am elated. This is the first time an Indian is heading a global luxury brand, that too an Indian woman, and it’s the first time a fashion industry outsider has been picked,” said Abhay Gupta, the founder of Indian consultancy group Luxury Connect.
While Indian professionals and CEOS are far from uncommon in finance, tech, and medical sectors, they remain noticeably under-represented in luxury brands, according to Gupta.
Nair’s predecessor at Chanel is the billionaire co-owner of the company, Alain Wertheimer. Wertheimer, who is a grandson of co-founder Pierre Wertheimer, will be staying on as global executive chairman.
Leena Nair will step into her new post at the end of January, 2022, and will be based in London where she currently lives with her husband Kumar Nair, and their two sons. Last year, before her name was on Chanel’s lips, she was given the Great British Businesswoman Role Model of the Year award.
Nair will not be the first woman CEO of Chanel, but she will be their first Asian CEO. Previous CEOs include Francoise Montenay and Maureen Chiquet, and Chanel was, of course, co-founded by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, from whom the company takes its name.
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