A Different Take: Chanel Names ‘Fashion Outsider’ and Unilever Veteran Leena Nair As New Global CEO

Business experts say the fashion industry is recruiting the talents of so-called outsiders to meet the demands of an increasingly inclusive market.

When luxury fashion house Chanel named Unilever’s Leena Nair as its new global CEO, the media were quick to point out that she is “not a fashion insider.”

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In fact, the consumer goods veteran made a name for herself during her 30 years at Unilever—most recently as its human resources chief and an executive committee member.

Nair is an India-born British national who climbed to the top of Unilever all the way from her days as a factory trainee. There, she was able to lead a 150,000-strong team and attain global management-wide gender parity.

Diversifying the brand

Chanel said Nair, who will be based in London, would officially join at January’s end. The group described the 52-year-old’s move as an assurance of its “long-term success as a private company.”

Meanwhile, Alain Wertheimer, who co-owns Chanel with his brother Gerard and had temporarily filled the CEO post, will transition to global executive chairman.

Nair officially succeeds Maureen Chiquet, who was active in the fashion industry before helming Chanel until 2016.

“I am humbled and honored to be appointed the global chief executive officer of Chanel, an iconic and admired company,” Nair posted on social media.

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

The appointed leader said she was overwhelmed by the love and support she received following the announcement, swearing that she is reading every comment even without necessarily replying.

Social media feedback has been positive based on posts celebrating Chanel for placing a woman of color in power. Nair was even greeted by business and nongovernmental leaders along with media personalities, including RPG Enterprises chairman Harsh Goenka and Edelweiss Mutual Fund CEO Radhika Gupta.

Congratulations Leena. All the very best. You make us feel proud

— Harsh Goenka (@hvgoenka) December 15, 2021

Fantastic! Congratulations Leena. You make us very proud.

— Radhika Gupta (@iRadhikaGupta) December 14, 2021

Trend spotted

Chanel is following the trend of recruiting executives from the consumer packaged goods industry, according to Bernstein luxury goods analyst Luca Solca.

“Unilever and P&G stand tall as management reservoirs for the relatively young luxury goods industry,” Solca says. The analyst pointed the likes of LVMH general manager Antonio Belloni and Estee Lauder head Fabrizio Freda, who both hail from Procter & Gamble.

These developments come as the fashion industry is “under pressure” to act and appear more inclusive as demanded by the market.

To add to her corporate-appealing background, Nair also led the diversity and inclusion agenda at Unilever while advocating for human-centered workplaces.

Her efforts led to concrete results such as being named number one FMCG graduate employer of choice in over 50 countries.

Banner Photo by Yoliveros via Wikimedia Commons


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