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Chanel’s No. 1

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Leena Nair, 

CEO, Chanel
age: 53
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Leena Nair’s career has been marked by many firsts. She was the first woman, first Asian and the youngest chief human resources officer of Unilever, where she was responsible for more than 1,50,000 employees in over 100 countries. In January this year, when she took over as global chief executive officer of Chanel, succeeding Alain Wertheimer, she became the first Indian-origin CEO to lead the French luxury group. Nair is also a non-executive board member of British Telecom. She is now part of a small group of Indian-origin CEOs heading big global businesses like Parag Aggarwal, CEO, Twitter; Sundar Pichai, CEO, Alphabet, and Satya Nadella, chairman and CEO of Microsoft. Nair has a degree in electronics & telecommunication engineering from Walchand College of Engineering, Sangli, and MBA in human resources from XLRI, Jamshedpur.
Meanwhile, Chanel is growing its fragrance and beauty standalone network in Asia, digital initiatives such as virtual try-on services and expansion of e-commerce capabilities. Experts say Nair’s experience with consumer goods and packaged food giant Unilever, where she worked across regulatory and labour environments, is an asset Chanel, which is navigating the post-pandemic luxury market.
The privately-held Chanel, known for the “little black dress” and the iconic Chanel No. 5 perfume, had a good 2021. Chanel said sales touched record highs across categories despite the pandemic impacting retail and travel retail businesses. The London-headquartered company, founded by Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel (Coco Chanel) more than 100 years ago, posted a 50% increase in revenues to $15.6 billion at the end of December 2021 and a 171% rise in operating profit to $5.46 billion. The company, which employs about 28,500 people around the world, also undertook a $758 million capital expenditure.