This week, luxury brand Chanel announced that Leena Nair would become its new global CEO. This is huge news, since Nair is only the second woman of Indian origin to become a corporation’s global CEO (the first being Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo). Nair was born in the Indian state of Maharashtra where she studied Engineering and then obtained an MBA in Human Resources. She then joined Unilever (a well-known name in consumer goods globally, but you may know them as the company who owns Dove) as a management trainee and worked in various factories which was quite unusual at the time for women. In fact, the factories rarely had bathrooms for women since the vats majority of employees were men! She worked her way up to becoming the youngest Chief Human Resources Officer at Unilever. She was also the company’s first female and first Asian-origin CHRO. She focused heavily on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, an important task as she oversaw over 160,00 employees in more than 100 countries. She has been recognized by Queen Elizabeth, and this year she was included in Fortune India’s Most Powerful Women list. I was thrilled to learn that she is fluent in Malayalam (my native tongue), in addition to Hindi, Marathi, English, and Spanish.
Nair’s appointment as the CEO of a luxury fashion brand is groundbreaking. We know of South Asians in leadership roles across tech and other industries, but a luxury brand like Chanel is making a statement by hiring a woman of color. Moreover, her story of grit and perseverance is one that will forever be inspiring to women and girls from all over the world. Here’s to breaking more glass ceilings and adding diversity to those in leadership roles!