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‘Boys talking to girls was a big thing’: Leena Nair’s journey from Kolhapur to Chanel

Leena Nair was an electronics and telecommunications engineering graduate from Walchand college in Sangli.

February 25, 2022 / 09:01 PM IST
Leena Nair is the Global CEO of luxury brand Chanel.

Leena Nair is the Global CEO of luxury brand Chanel.

Chanel CEO Leena Nair has made some unconventional choices in her thirty-year-long career. From a rather conservative community in Maharashtra’s Kohlapur to the global CEO of luxury brand Chanel, Nair has had quite the journey.

While speaking about her humble beginnings, Nair recalled how women in the community were educated till a certain point before they were married. So for a woman in a small town, big corporate dreams were out of reach, Nair recalls.

The 52-year-old was an electronics and telecommunications engineering graduate from Walchand college in Sangli.

Nair recalls how even boys and girls communicating in her college was a ‘big thing’.

“Boys talking to girls, their classmates in school and college, was also a big thing. There were barely any good schools for girls till I was almost seven years old. There were so many taboos and norms that women had to adhere to. You most often heard about things you could not do, rather than things you were allowed to do. There were other questions you dealt with, questions such as, ‘What will you do with so much education?’ Or ‘How come your father has only two daughters and no sons?’ I would get upset, angry, and I used that anger to fuel my passion and ambition,” she said.

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She worked at a few factories and a research lab after her graduation before pursuing a management course in human resources at XLRI, Jamshedpur.

Leena Nair remembers persuading her family to let her to go to Jamshedpur – 48 hours away by train – was quite a task.

“I got offered a place, but it took a while to convince my family, especially my father. Travelling alone to a college in a city 48 hours away by train was an idea that the family found difficult to grapple with.”

She credits her time at XLRI for her personal and professional development as she experienced a liberating life away from her conservative small town. She also credits her teachers and fellow classmates for her liberal worldview and said she has applied several takeaways from those discussions in her professional life.

Nair was the first woman at Hindustan Unilever to do sales and visit a factory. She worked there for almost 30 years as the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) before her big move to Chanel.



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Moneycontrol News
first published: Feb 25, 2022 09:01 pm
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