Women of HUL: From Leena Nair to Prabha Narasimhan, Hindustan Unilever has created iconic female leaders

Storyboard18 looks at the professional journey of women leaders who have been a part of Hindustan Unilever and some who continue to lead at HUL.

By  Storyboard18Jun 7, 2024 4:13 PM
Women of HUL: From Leena Nair to Prabha Narasimhan, Hindustan Unilever has created iconic female leaders
Take a peek at the professional journey of women leaders who have been a part of Hindustan Unilever and some who continue to lead at Unilever. (From left to right: Leena Nair, Prabha Narasimhan, Priya Nair, Harman Dhillon and Anuradha Razdan)

Hindustan Unilever (HUL) has earned the title of ‘CEO Factory’ . The FMCG juggernaut has created several leaders - women and men, who have gone on to run other companies. Here we look at some of the women leaders who have emerged out of HUL. Take a peek at the professional journey of women leaders who have been a part of Hindustan Unilever and some who continue to lead at Unilever.

Leena Nair

Leena Nair has been global chief executive officer at Chanel since January 2022. Nair is highly respected as a visionary leader whose ability to champion a long-term, purpose-driven agenda is matched with a consistently strong track record of business outcomes. Prior to joining Chanel, she spent 30 years at Unilever, serving as the company’s chief human resources officer (CHRO) and a member of their executive committee from 2016 to 2021. Nair started her career at Unilever as a summer intern at HUL in 1992. Over the decades that followed, Nair worked her way up the ranks to eventually become the first female, first Asian, youngest ever Chief Human Resources Officer of Unilever.

Previously, Nair has said how she often found herself to be the only woman in the room at HUL. Nair was one of the first women managers to sign up for factory assignments and her visits to HUL's factories made the reality of women all the more obvious. She recalled, “There was never a loo for ladies because nobody imagined a woman would come to their factory. So, the first thing I did was to get them to build a bathroom for women, and they eventually came to be named as ‘Leena’s Loos’.”

Prabha Narasimhan

Prabha Narasimhan is the managing director of Colgate-Palmolive India. Narasimhan joined Colgate from Hindustan Unilever (HUL), where she led the Home Care category as Executive Director and served as a member of the HUL Leadership Team. Narasimhan was the first external managing director of Colgate-Palmolive India (Ltd) in 12 years when she came on board.

She is experienced in customer development, consumer marketing and innovation across geographies and multiple categories, including Home Care, Foods, Personal & Skin Care. CP India announced her appointment in March 2022, and she has been special projects vice president for Colgate’s Asia Pacific Division. She is a graduate of the India Institute of Management Bangalore and Melbourne Business School.

Narasimhan joined HUL in 2006 as a regional marketing manager. She rose through the ranks in HUL over 15 years to become executive director for home care and vice-president, home care for Unilever, South Asia. Before HUL, she had a brief stint at Madura Garments.

When she joined Colgate as MD, Narasimhan looked back at her tenure at HUL, saying, "No post of starting would be complete however without a look back at my time with Unilever. I consider myself extremely privileged to have worked for over 2 decades in such a fabulous organisation and more importantly work with such amazing colleagues - many of whom are lifelong friends. I will continue to watch & cheer their progress. Thank you to everyone, far too many to name here, who have helped me get to this position and thanks in advance to my new Colgate colleagues who I am excited to get to know more."

Priya Nair

In January 2024, Priya Nair was appointed business group president, beauty & wellbeing for Unilever. A prestigious global mandate for a leader who emerged from HUL.

Nair has been building successful brands that engage consumers for the past 28 years. A high-performing business leader, she has experience in building and shaping categories, turning around underperforming businesses and leading diverse cross functional teams that achieve strong results.

As the president - beauty and wellbeing, Nair oversees the €12 billion business, which comprises four key pillars: hair care, skin care, prestige beauty, and health and wellbeing (vitamins, minerals and supplements).

She joined Hindustan Unilever (HUL) in 1995 and began building a foundational understanding of consumer products across home, beauty, and Personal Care in various roles within sales and marketing.

While in HUL, she led the beauty and personal care and homecare business. As head of homecare, she led the turnaround of the business and the portfolio and cost transformation to build a more sustainable and future fit business. Nair was recognised amongst the most influential women in business for multiple years in India.

Prior to becoming president - beauty and wellbeing earlier this year, Nair was the global Chief marketing officer for the beauty and wellbeing business. She was responsible for global revenue growth and profit, brand equity management, brand building, global innovation programme delivery and digital marketing transformation.

In March 2022, Nair shared with Storyboard18 the lessons that have helped her in a steady and stunning career: “I have learnt that in corporate life if you are fortunate enough to discover your purpose, which I have in my work, you will have the strength to manage all volatility and uncertainty.”

She added, “I have learnt that it is the power of the inner compass that gives you conviction, energy, and optimism. The second lesson I have learnt is to keep learning. This learning agility is critical in management, as we see the world change at an increasing speed. Constant learning, not just on the job but also learning from peers and industry, is critical for sharpening your skills and for personal development.”

Harman Dhillon

Harman Dhillon is the executive director of HUL’s beauty and wellbeing division and the general manager of Unilever's beauty and wellbeing division in South Asia. In May 2024, she joined HUL's top table - the management committee, after a recent rejig of leadership.

Dhillon is a well-rounded business leader and marketer with strengths in strategic thinking, consumer insights, brand crafting, P&L management, and leading diverse teams.

She has a successful track record of launching and growing large brands in the beauty and personal care business with assignments of increasing responsibility covering South Asia, North America and Europe. She is passionate about transforming businesses and building brands with purpose while continuously reinventing ways to create engagement between brands, consumers and society.

Prior to this, as skin care head, she led HUL’s premiumisation portfolio and demonstrated thought leadership for HUL in the FMCG beauty segment. She has also led the transformation of the skin care business, with a comprehensive revamp of brands such as Lakmé.

Previously as vice president - hair care, Dhillon built deep expertise in the hair care segment; she launched Dove hair and TRESemmé in India and led marketing campaigns such as Dove ‘Stop the Beauty Test’ and Clinic Plus ‘Meri Beti Strong.’ In 2015, she was responsible for the global TRESemmé business for two years as Global Brand Director based in London.

She joined HUL in 2006 after a stint with Tata Administrative Services.

Deepika Bhan

Deepika Bhan joined Tata Consumer Products in May 2021, as President - Foods Business. Before she joined the Tata Group, Bhan spent 15 years at Hindustan Unilever Ltd., capping off het tenure there in her last role as the Global Brand Director where she led the brand development, innovation and communication agenda for the Hair Care portfolio for South Asia.

Having worked on leadership assignments across sales and marketing, Bhan brings her rich experience and expertise in brand crafting and communication, driving innovation, building new categories and P&L management combined with a strong understanding of frontline sales. She is particularly passionate about building brands and business with purpose at its heart.

When Bhan was once asked about how her 15-year long stint at HUL prepared her for the role she took up at Tata, she said that she is always looking to find fundamental problems or big opportunities: "I’ve found myself gravitating to where I knew I would have the steepest learning curve. Frequently, that meant a hard climb because I would be out of my comfort zone, but I enjoyed the challenge. I was continuously looking for assignments that I had not done before, but also doing things nobody else had done either."

Bhan is an Economics (Hons) graduate from St. Xavier’s’ College and holds a master’s degree in business administration from Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar, Orissa. An avid reader, gourmet cook, travel and nature enthusiast, Deepika resides in Mumbai with her husband and two children.

Anuradha Razdan

Anuradha Razdan is a member of the management committee of Hindustan Unilever Limited as executive director, human resources (HR). She is also the chief human resources officer for Unilever, South Asia.

She is a business-focused HR leader who has had an international career with rich experiences in HUL and global leadership roles, partnering members of the Unilever Leadership Executive.

She joined HUL as a management trainee in 1999.

Razdan spent the first 14 years of her HUL career working with teams in customer development, employee relations, and as HR partner to members of the HUL Management Committee in supply chain and marketing. As leadership development director, South Asia, she led the talent agenda across five markets and was instrumental in bringing significant external recognition to the company.

She worked at Unilever’s headquarters in London for six years, first as executive assistant to the former CHRO, followed by a four-year stint as vice president HR, Home Care, where she shaped the organisational and cultural transformation of the business globally to be more agile and consumer connected.

She has strong M&A experience, having worked with the Unilever Prestige business and has also led the Global Talent Attraction and Employer Brand agenda for Unilever.

Her purpose is “To spark magic between people, passion and opportunity – for the benefit of the business, of society and us all”. Razdan is very passionate about leadership development and is a strong voice advocating for more inclusive businesses and communities.

Razdan is the Co-Chair of the FICCI HR Committee and Co-Convenor of the G20 EMPOWER Working Group on Corporate Women Empowerment.

First Published on Jun 5, 2024 8:30 AM

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