Photograph Courtesy of Vogue India
On Tuesday, Chanel named former Unilever Human Resources executive Leena Nair Global CEO of the French luxury brand. Nair, a fashion industry outsider, is replacing the company’s billionaire co-owner Alan Wertheimer, who is moving from interim CEO to global executive chairman of the brand. Stepping into the role that has been left unfilled for more than five years, Nair is assuming the position last held by Maureen Chiquet leaving the company in 2016 after nine years as CEO.
Despite her lack of experience in the fashion industry, throughout the course of her thirty-year career at Unilever, a consumer-goods company, Nair made a great impact. Starting on the company’s factory floor, Nair worked her way to the top, and used her position to help the company achieve gender parity across global managerial roles over the course of ten years. Nair spearheaded this movement by implementing policy changes, additional training, and careful data analysis to determine points of inequality. Throughout the course of her career, Nair’s Human Resources work has focused on people, culture, values, and development.
The appointment of Nair, a British-Indian woman, signifies a larger shift for Chanel, a brand known for its traditionalism. In July of 2019, the company appointed its first global head of diversity and inclusion, a move signifying the brand’s commitment to developing progressive and equitable practices and values. Nair seems to be the woman for the job, according to Unilever CEO Alan Jose, who calls her “a driving force on our equity, diversity and inclusion agenda, on the transformation of our leadership development, and on our preparedness for the future of work.” Chanel is hopeful that Nair will have a similar impact on their company, stating their plan to utilize her ability to “champion a long-term, purpose-driven agenda.”