For the first time, a woman runs one of the four largest fashion groups in the world. Helmersson, who developed her entire career at H&M, has replaced Karl-Johan Persson as chief executive officer.
Neither operations nor finances: the new CEO of H&M is an expert in provisioning and sustainability. Helena Helmersson, as of yesterday has taken her role as the new CEO of the Swedish group, the first woman to pilot one of the four largest fashion groups in the world. Looking at her experience, it says a lot about and her career says a lot about the company’s plans H&M’s plans for the upcoming years.
Her route in the more than twenty years that she has been in the company could well mirror the same as one of the millions of garments that the group distributes each year: Stockholm, Dhaka, Hong Kong, and Stockholm again.
The executive was born in Skellefteå, in northern Sweden, and graduated in business administration from the University of Umeå. At 24, a recently graduated, Helmersson joined H&M in 1997 as a controller in the purchasing department.
Helene Helmersson was director of sustainability and responsible for global production
For a decade she held positions in purchasing and production and moved to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, where she supervised the sector of human resources production. In 2007, Helmersson packed again, this time for Hong Kong, where she took the reins of the lingerie department in the production office.
Three years later, Helmersson returned to Stockholm to assume the roles as sustainability director of the group, overseeing corporate social responsibility initiatives throughout the value chain. In 2015, the executive was promoted to global director of production in Hong Kong. Her last ascent came just a year ago when she was appointed director of operations of the group, with responsibilities for expansion, logistics, production, IT, and analytics.
Her journey carries some similarities with Inditex’s number two, Carlos Crespo. Both have been in the company for longer than their president (Karl-Johan Persson joined H&M in 2007, ten years after Helmersson), and they were appointed chief operating officers just one year before assuming their roles as CEOs.
The executive joined the company in 1997 and has been in the group for longer than Karl-Johan Persson
Helmersson will take over from Karl-Johan Persson, grandson of the founder, who took over the reins of the family business in 2009. In addition, he will be the second person outside the family to lead the company, with the first being Rolf Eriksen, who managed H&M between the departure of Stefan Persson in 2000 and the arrival of Karl-Johan Persson in 2009.
The executive will also be the first woman in charge of one of the largest fashion distribution groups in the world. Both Gap and Inditex have appointed new CEOs in the last year, two men. Inditex is piloted by Pablo Isla, as executive president, and Carlos Crespo, who assumed the role of CEO in 2019. In Gap, Robert J. Fisher has taken the reins temporarily after the departure of Art Peck last November.
For its part, the owner of Fast Retailing, Tadashi Yanai, continues to lead his company, although in an interview last year with CNN he expressed his wishes that whoever relieved him would be a woman.