10 Things You Didn’t Know About Leena Nair


Leena Nair is a leading example of how to break glass ceilings and make waves in the corporate world. With a stellar career trajectory, Nair has touched numerous aspects of the corporate structure – always set on positive impact and transformation. Born and raised in India, she soon became a globally recognized figure in her field. While many know about her professional exploits, there is always more than what meets the eye. So let’s delve into ten fascinating facts about Leena Nair you probably didn’t know.

1. She Was the First Female CHRO of Unilever

One of Leena Nair’s most notable achievements was when she took the role of the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) at Unilever in 2016, making her the first woman to ever hold this position in the company’s global footprint. This was a seminal moment not only for Nair but also for women all around the world who aspire to thrive in male-dominated industries.

Her leadership approach centered on breaking stereotypes and promoting diversity, leading to Unilever being recognized as a leading company for gender diversity during her tenure. It was under her guidance that Unilever met its target to achieve gender balance across management globally, a year ahead of plan.

2. She is an Alumni of XLRI Jamshedpur

Leena Nair holds an MBA in HR from the Xavier School of Management (XLRI), Jamshedpur, India. XLRI is among the top business schools in India, known for its esteemed alumni in the arena of Human Resources Management.

She also has a Bachelor’s in Electronics Engineering from Walchand College of Engineering, Sangli, supporting the left-brain systematic thinking she brings to her approach. The combination of her technical and managerial education provided the foundation for her successful career.

3. Began Her Career with TATA Group

Before her rise at Unilever, Leena Nair began her professional journey with the TATA Group as a graduate engineer trainee. It was a unique beginning that laid stepping stones for her future accomplishments. Working with TATA allowed her to understand ground realities of business world at an early age.

After her stint at TATA, she joined Unilever as a trainee in 1992, where she gradually climbed the ladder to make her mark in her domain.

4. Multi-faceted Personality

Leena Nair’s accomplishments span beyond the corporate world. True to her multifaceted personality, she is an avid reader, a yoga enthusiast, and harbors a deep love for travel and exploration. She believes in holistic development and often communicates the importance of finding a balance between work and personal life.

Nair’s interests reflect her keen fascination with the world and her commitment to lifelong learning. Her passions outside work are a testament to her belief in the power of a balanced life.

5. Her Focus on Mental Well-being at Work

Leena Nair has always been an advocate for mental well-being in the corporate space. Recognizing the toll high-pressure work environments can take on employees’ mental health, she has consistently pushed for greater mental health consciousness in the workplace.

Nair believes that only when employees are physically, emotionally, and mentally sound can they bring their best selves to work, and therefore, better contribute to the organization’s goals. Her implementation of well-being programs at Unilever was a cornerstone of her HR strategy.

6. Enhancing Youth Employability

Under Nair’s leadership, Unilever has launched several initiatives to promote youth employability. ‘LevelUp’, a global program launched during her tenure, is aimed at providing employability skills for the young workforce. Similarly, the ‘Make Your Mark’ program provides apprenticeship opportunities to young people around the world.

Her efforts to enhance career opportunities and skills development for young people reflect a dedication not only to Unilever’s success but also to a more inclusive and well-prepared workforce.

7. Her Role as an Inspiring Speaker

Leena Nair is much sought after as a keynote speaker in both global corporate and educational settings. She has delivered impactful talks at TEDx, shared career wisdom on panels at LinkedIn, speaks frequently at educational institutions, and prolific industry conferences. She uses these platforms to empower others, especially women, with insights from her own journey.

Her speeches are known to inspire, challenge and motivate the audience. With a knack for storytelling, Leena provides unique perspectives on leadership, diversity, and transformation.

8. She is Chanel’s Head of Human Resources

In 2021, Leena Nair took on a new role as the Global CEO of Chanel’s Human Resources and became part of Chanel’s executive committee. A shift from FMCG to luxury was indeed a significant move that portrays her versatility as a leader.

Now at Chanel, she continues to work towards creating an inclusive environment and conducting business with empathy and respect, mirroring her values of support and encouragement.

9. Nair Believes in Humanizing Work

Nair’s philosophy in managing human resources is centered around the idea of humanizing work. She promotes the belief that technology should be leveraged to create a more human work environment, contrary to the fear many harbor about technology taking over jobs.

She advocates for the use of Artificial Intelligence and other technologies to get rid of mundane tasks, allowing employees to focus on more creative aspects of their roles and to enjoy their work more.

10. Recognition and Awards

Nair has received several accolades for her work including the ‘Most Powerful Women in Business’ by Fortune India and ’25 most powerful women in Global TV’ by The Hollywood Reporter. In 2019, she was recognized as a LinkedIn Top Voice.

In 2021, she was awarded the ‘People-focused CEO of the Year’, thereby, adding another feather to her cap. These recognitions shed light on her commitment and contributions to the field of HR and the corporate world overall.

As we delve into Leena Nair’s world, it becomes clear that her journey is richly multifaceted. An embodiment of an empowered woman, she constantly breaks stereotypes and inspires maximal potential. Nair continues to scale new heights, pushing boundaries in her field and setting an example for generations to come.

Here are additional sources to learn more about Leena Nair and her work:

LinkedIn Profile of Leena Nair

Leena Nair’s talk at TEDx

Leena Nair’s lessons for leaders