Fashion house Chanel hires Unilever consumer goods veteran as CEO


PARIS, December 14 (Reuters) – French fashion house Chanel on Tuesday appointed Unilever (ULVR.L) executive Leena Nair as its new global CEO, picking a consumer goods veteran to lead one of the most major global luxury goods groups.

Nair’s career with Unilever spanned 30 years, most recently as Chief Human Resources Officer and member of the company’s executive committee.

A British national, born in India, Nair is a rare foreigner at the helm of the tightly controlled family fashion house known for its tweed suits, quilted handbags and No.5 perfume.

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The 52-year-old follows American businesswoman Maureen Chiquet, who hails from the fashion world and CEO of Chanel for nine years until early 2016.

French billionaire Alain Wertheimer, a 73-year-old man who owns Chanel with his brother Gérard Wertheimer and initially assumed the role of CEO on a temporary basis, will step up to the role of global executive chairman.

Chanel was founded in 1910 by fashion legend Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel as a boutique on rue Cambon in Paris.

and has become a synonym of French chic.

The group said Nair, who at Unilever supervised 150,000 people, would join in late January and be based in London. He added that the new appointments would ensure his “long-term success as a private company”.

The hiring of Nair, who rose through Unilever’s ranks after starting as an intern at the factory, comes as the fashion industry is under pressure to display a more inclusive approach.

Under her leadership, Unilever has achieved gender parity in global management, according to a profile from Harper’s Bazaar released last month, which also underscored its commitment to paying the living wage throughout the supply chain.

Nair is a non-executive board member of BT (BT.L) and previously served as a non-executive director of the UK government’s business, energy and industrial strategy department.

Chanel has fiercely defended its independence and did not start releasing its financial results until 2018. She said in July that she planned to increase double-digit sales this year from their pre-pandemic level. of $ 12.3 billion in 2019.

Bernstein luxury goods analyst Luca Solca said Chanel is following a trend of attracting senior executives from the consumer packaged products industry.

“Unilever and P&G are management reservoirs for the relatively young luxury industry,” he said, appointing Antonio Belloni, CEO of LVMH (LVMH.PA) and former chairman of Procter & Gamble in Europe, and Estee Lauder heads Fabrizio Freda, also a P&G veteran.

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Additional reporting by Siddharth Cavale Editing by Susan Fenton and Keith Weir

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