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Chanel’s New CEO Is Not A Fashion Insider

Updated: Feb 17, 2022

‌By Lela London Forbes

Chanel has appointed Leena Nair, a former Unilever exec, as its new Global CEO

After more than five years without a global CEO, French fashion house Chanel has named Leena Nair, a former executive from Unilever, as Maureen Chiquet’s replacement.

When Chiquet left the brand after nine years in early 2016, Chanel co-owner Alain Wertheimer adopted the title on an incumbent basis.

In an official statement, Chanel said that the 73-year old French billionaire (who c0-owns the brand with his brother, Gerard Wertheimer) will move to the role of global executive chairman of the group, leaving Nair to rule the roost.

Which has shocked many industry insiders, as someone without a background in fashion is something of an unexpected choice.

Leena Nair comes to Chanel after 30 years at Unilever.

Still, Nair has built a brilliant reputation for herself during her 30-year tenure at Unilever—most recently as the chief of human resources and a member of the company's executive committee, overseeing 150,000+ employees.

Under her watch Unilever not only achieved gender parity across global management, but committed to paying the living wage across the supply chain.

A commitment which, after starting as a trainee on the factory floor and rising through the ranks, means a lot to Nair personally.

Nair also serves as a non-executive board member at British Telecom and has previously served as non-executive director of the British government's business, energy and industrial strategy department.

The group said she will join at the end of January and be based in London. It added that the new appointments would ensure its "long-term success as a private company."

In June, Chanel revealed it spent $1.1 billion, a “record level of capital expenditure” throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and plans to continue at that level, despite annual revenues falling 18 per cent (to $10.1 billion) in 2020 due to “a highly disrupted environment”.

Operating profit totalled $2.05 billion, a 41.4 per cent decline, though Chanel said it saw an improvement in sales trends in the final quarter of the year.

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