From Business Today, India
37/ Executive Director (HR), Hindustan Unilever
Education: BE Electronics and MBA from XLRI
Work Experience: 15 years
Career High: First woman ED at HUL
Hobbies: Bollywood movies, reading, outdoor sports and travelling Success Mantra: Look for a win-win in every situation
It's a hat trick, in some sense. Leena Nair isn't just the first woman to make it to Hindustan Unilever's Management Committee (mc), but also the youngest Executive Director (ED) and that too one in charge of not a profit centre, but human resources. As the HR boss, Nair heads a team of 250 people who look into the well-being of about 15,000 employees across 70 different locations in the country, including 45 factories and four regional offices.
The 37-year-old Nair joined Hindustan Lever (as it was known until recently) straight out of XLRI, Jamshedpur, 15 years ago, and has risen quickly through the ranks. From being a factory personnel manager to management development planning manager to hr manager for the detergents business, Nair has been there, done that. But how does it feel to become the youngest and only woman Executive Director on the mc in HUL's history? "It is definitely a big honour for me because HUL is not just a big organisation with a great history and heritage, but (my elevation is) also a testimony to how much hr is valued here," says the tall and trim Nair.
She could say that again. Until recently, in most organisations, hr didn't get a seat at the high table. For one, hr wasn't seen as a profit centre and, for another, it was not considered strategic enough. But with talent becoming scarce and the only real differentiator at most companies, boards are waking up to the strategic importance of human resources. No wonder, Nair says her challenge is straightforward. "We have to do well and excel to make a difference to the organisation. My team must also make a difference to excellence in hr in the company and in the country," she says.
On staying put at the FMCG giant, Nair says, "When your job is interesting and you are feeling stretched and challenged, and when you have great bosses and you are working with talented people, you don't want to leave." HUL must be hoping that she can spread the same kind of enthusiasm around the organisation.