Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Unilever's Indian talent factory

With the appointment of Priya Nair to the Unilever Leadership Executive, the top decision-making body at Unilever now has three Indians

Samar Srivastava
Published: Oct 27, 2023 03:37:43 PM IST
Updated: Oct 27, 2023 04:01:24 PM IST

Unilever's Indian talent factory(Clockwise from left) Sanjiv Mehta, Manvinder Singh Banga, Nitin Paranjpe, Harish Manwani and Leena Nair 
Hindustan Unilever has provided a large talent pool for its global parent Unilever. Managers at the Indian subsidiary are seen as hard-nosed marketers who have the chops to succeed in any environment. Over the years the parent has used global assignments to prepare its top managers, known internally as listers, for larger roles. And most of HUL’s chief executives have spent time at headquarters where the top leadership team can get to know them. HUL’s current chief executive, Rohit Jawa, was chief transformation officer for Unilever in London.
Here are some of Hindustan Unilever’s managers who have had a role at the global parent:  

T Thomas

T Thomas joined Hindustan Lever in 1950 and is the first known case of an Indian manager moving to Unilever. He spent his career at the company and was made chairman from 1973 to 1980. After his stint in India he was appointed to the board of Unilever plc & NV as executive director. His appointment was the first for a non-European. He spent a decade at Unilever and spent most of his time consolidating the worldwide specialty chemicals group making it a major profit center. 

Keki Dadiseth   

Hindustan Lever’s chairman between 1996 and 2000 had two stints at the global parent. Between 1984 and 1987 he was seconded to the company and held senior finance and commercial positions, post which Keki Dadiseth returned to India and took up a board position responsible for personal products and detergents. After the completion of his stint, Dadiseth was made a director of home and personal care.   

Manvinder Singh Banga

Manvinder Singh Banga become HUL’s youngest chairman in 1999 and was sent to Unilever in a variety of roles. In total he spent 33 years at Unilever and exited once he was passed over for the top job which went to Paul Polman. Banga has since worked with private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice.   

Harish Manwani

Harish Manwani joined Hindustan Lever in 1976 and rose to become director personal products. In 1999 he moved to Unilever and spent the next decade in a variety of roles in the UK, Latin America and north America. He was also appointed non-executive chairman of Hindustan Unilever in 2005. In 2011 he was appointed global COO at Unilever and retired from the company in 2014. 

Nitin Paranjpe

Nitin Paranjpe has spent his entire career at Unilever. He first rose to become the chief executive of Hindustan Unilever in 2008. His stint came at a time when the business hadn’t been growing and he was instrumental in getting growth back. Post that Paranjpe spent the next decade in a variety of roles at Unilever before he was appointed as chief operating officer in 2019. 

Also read: HUL's Nitin Paranjpe: How to Make Friends and Win

Sanjiv Mehta

While managers starting their careers in India for Unilever and then going abroad may have been the dominant trend, Sanjiv Mehta, who spent nearly a decade as chief executive of HUL, was an example of an Indian coming in from overseas to head HUL. Mehta, who had earlier worked with Union Carbide, had stints in Bangladesh, the Philippines and the Middle East before assuming the top job at the Indian subsidiary. His stint will be remembered for the rapid growth in topline and margins. 

Also read: How rainmaker Sanjiv Mehta is building up HUL for the next decade

Leena Nair

Leena Nair, who was the first woman to take over the human resources role in Hindustan Unilever, spent the start of her career in factory locations across India. Post her stint at Hindustan Unilever she was made the chief human resources officer at Unilever before leaving to become CEO of luxury brand Chanel in 2021.  

Also read: Leena Nair: Taking Off Chanel's Eurocentric Goggles

Priya Nair 

Priya Nair, who was until recently chief marketing officer beauty and wellbeing at Unilever, has been appointed president beauty and wellbeing. She will also be a part of the Unilever Leadership Executive which also comprises Nitin Paranjpe and Rohit Jawa. Nair, who joined Hindustan Unilever in 1995, was an executive director in the company in charge of beauty and personal care. 

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