Leaders are often seen as confidence personified. But, scratch a bit, and the vulnerability that lies behind the persona of steely nerves reveals itself. For Leena Nair, who stepped down as Unilever CHRO after being named French fashion giant Chanel’s global CEO, the journey as a leader has been no different.
She has had her moments of anxiety and self-doubt. But whom does she turn to for advice and reassurance? Indra Nooyi. Yes, the former CEO of PepsiCo who shattered the glass ceiling and much more with her ascension to the top of the US-based food and beverage giant in 2006. Nooyi, the India-born, IIM-educated business executive worked at PepsiCo for close to a quarter century, half of it at its helm, before stepping down in 2018.
Nooyi, 66, published her memoir My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future in September, which traces her life from her formative years in India to her experience at the Yale School of Management, and finally her rise to the top of the corporate world. To Nair, who herself has been a role model with a sterling career as CHRO of Unilever, Nooyi has been a mentor.
“I'm so proud to call her a mentor and friend,” Nair had said in October, during an interaction with Nooyi as they discussed the latter’s biography.
“All of you know me as pretty confident. But let me tell you, there have been a couple of times I’ve asked questions to Indra… ‘am I good enough or why me’. She has given me the proverbial kick in the pants to go and get over myself and get back my confidence and given me the shake-up that all of us need from time to time,” Nair had said.
Nair, 52, was born in Kolhapur, a town in India’s western state of Maharashtra, and travelled to Jamshedpur in India’s east to obtain her MBA from the reputed XLRI in 1992 before joining Unilever as a management trainee. In 30 years, she rose through the ranks, achieving the rare distinction of being the first female, first Asian, and the youngest-ever CHRO of London-based Unilever, which makes the popular soap brand Dove and Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream.
Nair’s appointment as the global CEO of Chanel, founded in 1910 in Paris and known for its elegant tweed suits, handbags, jewellery, and perfume Chanel 5, comes as a huge inspiration for women leaders, especially non-whites, who aspire to lead global multinational corporations. Nair’s crowning glory also sharply spotlights the HR function, and paves the way for CHROs to confidently compete for CEO roles at organisations across the globe.
Nair takes over at the $10-billion Chanel, which competes with the likes of Louis Vuitton and Gucci, in January and will be based in London.
Image Credits aajtak.in