BABE #212: MEGHA PAREKH - Chief Legal Officer, Jacksonville Jaguars
As Chief Legal Officer for the Jacksonville Jaguars (our local NFL team!) Megha leads departments including human resources, technology and capital planning. With the Jaguars being an integral part of our city, Megha’s role is particularly vital to the success of the many things that the Jags franchise is doing to impact and enhance our community. With degrees from Harvard College and Harvard Law School paired with a personal passion for family and playing the acoustic guitar, Megha exemplifies the kind of multifaceted, resilient and ambitious babe our team aspires to be, and we’re honored to share her story today.
Hometown: Manalapan, New Jersey
Current city: Jacksonville, Florida
Alma mater: Harvard College; Harvard Law School
Degree: Bachelor’s in Social Studies, Juris Doctor in Law
Very first job: Pizza Hut (now an NFL sponsor!)
Hustle: Sr. VP/Chief Legal Officer, Jacksonville Jaguars
Babe you admire and why?
There are many! At this moment, though, the woman inspiring me the most is my mother. She was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year. Shortly after the diagnosis, she refused to cancel a trip to Los Angeles with me. Within a few days of an initial surgery, she hoisted her diminutive 4’9” frame onto a horse and we went riding together in the Hollywood Hills. After she returned from the trip, she challenged the treatment regimen she had been given. She did her own research, made adjustments to her treatment plan that helped her avoid chemotherapy and instead underwent radiation. She continues to go for five-mile walks every day she can and is planning a trip to Egypt and Jordan. She was splashing in the pool with her grandkids last weekend. Her positivity, resilience and strength are an inspiration for anyone facing adversity.
How do you spend your free time?
I’m a woman of simple pleasures. I like playing guitar, watching baseball, playing sports on the beach and drinking boxed wine while solving the world’s problems with my friends.
Go-to coffee order?
I have terrible insomnia, so this year I gave up caffeine (I was an aggressive coffee/Red Bull/everything-with-energy drinker) and focused on sleep and hydration. I have green tea from time to time, but that’s usually it!
Current power anthem?
I’m a sucker for power ballads. “Monster Ballads” was my first CD as a kid. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet Poison when they came to play at the Daily’s Place amphitheater. Poison’s energy and talent reverberated in my soul, and I’ve been blasting “Something to Believe In” even more than normal.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Chicken parm sub. Specifically, from Dusal’s in Manalapan, N.J., if I could.
Tell us about your hustle.
My current role is chief legal officer at the Jacksonville Laguars. The teams I work with are responsible for legal, human resources, technology and capital planning. Our team members are dedicated and driven to support the overall mission of the team: to create memorable experiences through football and fun. (And we try to have as much fun as we can while doing it.)
What does your typical workday look like?
The best—but also most challenging—part of my job is that there is no such thing as a typical workday. I’ve needed to learn to block portions of my day purely to handle last-minute matters that might arise. It seems odd to plan for certain uncertainty, but I’ve found it to be very helpful for getting work done. A typical workday involves everything from employee training to drafting contracts to negotiating joint venture agreements regarding downtown development. We also work closely with many affiliate companies of the Jaguars, including Fulham Football Club and Union Jax, our UK operating entity.
When and why did you decide to pursue a career in law?
I pursued a career in law for two reasons: I was hopeful that as a lawyer I’d be able to achieve financial independence more quickly than in other careers; and I had no idea what else to do after college! My quintessential liberal arts major of “social studies” was very interesting and I studied a myriad of topics (philosophy, history, sociology, government, economics). I wrote my senior thesis on heavy metal music. Those topics are all wonderful ways to enrich the mind, but the practical application to jobs isn’t immediately obvious. Lawyers, however, are in part responsible for helping structure social governance and for helping people keep their promises (via contracts); those concepts appealed to me when I was deciding on a profession. In addition, financial independence was always important to me in part because I wanted my parents—the hardest working people I know—not to worry about me and instead focus on retiring and traveling. I have a great photo of my dad with a kangaroo taken during their trip to Australia; it’s as good a motivator for hard work as anything.
What did your academic journey look like leading up to where you are now?
After completing my undergraduate degree in social studies, I went directly to law school. (The timing was fortuitous because I graduated immediately prior to the recession. I was fortunate to be able to start working in time.) During law school, despite the advice I was given, I chose to take classes that (1) I was very interested in or (2) had excellent professors. I knew that otherwise the material was less likely to be engaging and I was likely to learn less. I ended up taking a seminar on women’s human rights with Catherine MacKinnon (the academic equivalent of learning to play guitar from Eddie Van Halen), law and literature and sports and the law. I didn’t, during school, take some of the more traditional courses that are recommended (like evidence, tax and bankruptcy). I had to study a little extra hard for the bar exam, but taking courses I was interested in was well worth it and enriching.
What would your advice be to other pursuing rigorous educational paths?
Make sure you balance what you “should” be doing based on conventional advice against what you think you should be doing based on your own assessment; and make time to take care of yourself (it’s the only way to sustain yourself for the long haul). If I listened to conventional wisdom only, I would have missed out on some of the enriching academic opportunities I mentioned above. In addition, despite most people studying in the library, I found that wasn’t the right environment for me; it was too intense in a distracting way. I found it easier to study while watching football or baseball or reality television; those small elements of self-care made the law school “grind” easier for me.
What has your journey with the Jaguars been like?
Working for the Jaguars has been a surprise and challenge since my first week (I showed up thinking I would be the team lawyer, and in my first few days was handed human resources and technology!) That trend has continued. Mr. Khan is a visionary leader and the Jaguars organization is more than football. Since I started, we’ve pivoted into the music business with the opening of Daily’s Place, continued and expanded our footprint in London and undertaken (with the support of the City of Jacksonville) nearly $170 million in improvements to the sports complex. We’re now looking to grow downtown through development of a mixed-use project adjacent to the stadium. The professional opportunities are complex and exciting, and it’s very rewarding to welcome people to football games and concerts and see them making new memories.
What advice do you have for fellow young, female professional in executive-level roles?
Find a small group of people whom you trust, and ask them to be ruthlessly honest with you regarding how you’re being perceived. One of my biggest blind spots is that I’m often not as sensitive as I should be to how other people perceive me. Despite my own good intentions, their perception is their reality, and I need to learn to listen and adjust my delivery based on my audience.
How have your past internships, education and work experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
From a technical perspective, the legal training I received at the law firm was rigorous and instilled a lot of discipline and thoughtfulness into how I approach my work. Complex deals present challenging problems that are thought-provoking. It was a constant intellectual challenge. I haven’t found any on-the-job training that can appropriately prepare you for how to handle office politics; I have been a bit shell-shocked at times by that. To facilitate my own learning on how to improve my emotional intelligence, I’ve found Harvard Business Review and the TED Radio Hour podcast series to have practical tips and stories regarding how you can be a more resilient and emotionally intelligent team member.
What’s been your biggest career milestone?
One of my most memorable experiences was on July 26, 2014, when we unveiled the world’s largest outdoor video boards at TIAA Bank Field. That was my first major stadium project. The night before the major unveil, our project manager (who was known for always wearing a cowboy hat) and I sat in the new swim spas, having a beer and soaking in (literally and figuratively) what the team had been able to accomplish. One of our guys played Bon Jovi on the stadium sound system. It was really exciting to know fans were about to get a newly enhanced community asset that would provide them with a breathtaking experience.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
Recent developments and headlines have called this into question for me. I used to feel like being a woman in the legal industry—and even in the sports industry—was nothing but an asset. I tended to stand out and be more memorable in meetings because there were not that many women. Upon reflection, and as I’ve been discussing with other woman professionals, one of the things I’ve realized is that we often accepted as normal what was actually truly unacceptable behavior (e.g., we came to accept inappropriate comments or touching). Now that I’m in more of a leadership role, I feel more responsibility to be sensitive to those things and to create a workplace environment where both women and men feel comfortable working together and can do their best. Certain things I was silent on or accepted in the past I will not treat the same way in the future.
What advice would you give to a babe trying to break into your industry?
Learn about the myriad of opportunities that are available to those who are interested in working in “sports.” There are, of course, players on our field. There are a greater number of people—broadcast engineers, video producers, computer programmers, ticket salespeople, sponsorship activation team members, accountants—who are supporting the sports business. Develop expertise in an area that interests you and you’ll be better positioned to get a job in the sports industry (which is competitive, both on and off the field, because of the number of interested applicants).
What’s next for you?
In my twenties, my primary focus was to achieve financial independence and to get a job that would allow my parents—who are the hardest working people I know—to retire with their minds at peace. In my thirties, I’m trying to get a life and focus on a more well-rounded notion of wellness, which includes more than work. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, in my life, with my body, because I’ve made exercise and nutrition a priority. I’m reading for pleasure. And, I checked an item off my bucket life: playing a live acoustic guitar set at a beach bar. I’m naturally super-shy, so getting up and performing (to a roaring crowd of about 12 people on a Monday for three hours) was intimidating, but I felt such a rush from the experience.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Define what success means for you. Too often, I find people feel stuck in careers, cities or relationships because they feel like they need to be to live up to some ideal. Define what success means for you, personally and professionally. Figure out how much money you need to live the lifestyle you want. Then, decide what you want to do and how you’re going to get there. Also, take care of yourself. There are definitely times when I sacrifice my wellness (sleep, exercise) for work. In hindsight, I was actually less thoughtful and productive than I would have been if I’d actually taken care of myself. Self-care isn’t selfish! It’s what you need to do to give the best of yourself to others.
Connect with Megha:
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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