Leena Nair bags the top HR role at Unilever Worldwide

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Nair is currently senior VP- leadership & organisation development, and also the global head of diversity and inclusion at Unilever – a position she has held since January 2013.

If sources are to be believed, Leena Nair has been elevated as the global HR Head at Unilever. An internal announcement has already been made. With her elevation, this will be yet another top position taken up by an Indian in the Unilever family.

Since the evening of December 14, 2015, there have been congratulatory messages floating around on social media apps, especially among those who have worked with Nair at HUL. Some of her ex-colleagues shared the development with HRKatha.

Based out of London, Nair currently is senior VP- leadership & organisation development as well as global head of diversity and inclusion at Unilever, a position she has held since January 2013. Douglas Baillie, CHRO, Unilever, whom she reported to, will soon be 61 and retire this year.

Prior to taking up the global role, Nair was executive director, Hindustan Unilever (HUL) and VP-HR South Asia.

She is to be credited for transforming the employee relations (ER) function from a fire fighting one to a proactive and employee-centric one. This was a tough task, given that the team had to negotiate with 40 units and 96 unions. While earlier HUL would lose 50,000 man days per year on account of ER issues, she managed to reduce it to less than 100 man days.

She is also acknowledged for turning HUL into a talent exporter for Unilever worldwide.

Among her several achievements is the ‘Career by Choice’ programme, which specifically targeted women who had taken a break from work for personal reasons. She initiated this programme to bring more women into the HUL workforce.

Srikanth Balachandran, global CHRO, Bharti Airtel, who has worked with Nair at HUL, shares with HR Katha, “I have known Leena for the last 20 years. In the initial years, I saw her in the thick of IR action at HUL , especially after the merger of TOMCO. I have also seen her working with the top leadership on a strategic initiative to transform the business into a more consumer-connected enterprise. So, in 2007, when she took over as executive director-HR, in a career span of 15 years, it did not come as a surprise.”

“It was a record of sorts and also another first for HUL in diversity — a kind of an indication. We all had this feeling that one day Leena would take over as the global CHRO for Unilever. So, no surprises even today,” he adds.

Strategic clarity, business insight and people connect — the ideal balance of mind and heart that makes a CHRO successful — that is what Balachandran has always seen in her.

Nair, 46, passed out of XLRI in 1992. A gold medallist, she joined HUL (then HLL) soon after and has been there ever since. She was the first woman manager to opt for a factory stint, in the industrial belt of Taloja, and was also the first woman to join HUL’s management committee.

Hailing from Kolhapur, Maharashtra, Nair started as the personnel manager in a beverages and then a chemicals factory, followed by the post of employee relations manager at HUL head office. Soon, she took over the Management Development portfolio. In 2000, she moved in as the HR manager for the detergents business and later, as GM-HR (HPC) in 2004.

In 2008, she was conferred with the Young Woman Achiever of the Year in Business, by FICCI.

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