Auckland lawyer Jaya Prasannan has been announced as the Institute of Directors' Auckland branch Emerging Director 2019.
Jaya is currently general manager of corporate services and general counsel at two Auckland-based digital disruptors, NZ Compare and S.L.I.C.E. Digital. She leads a team responsible for legal affairs, finance and human resources functions. Prior to joining NZ Compare and S.L.I.C.E. Digital, Jaya was in-house counsel for a number of large New Zealand businesses. Originally from the UK, Jaya also spent five years in private practice and in-house in counsel London.
In addition, Jaya is the deputy chair of the Youth Hostel Association of New Zealand Inc. She holds a BA (Hons) in Natural Sciences & Psychology from the University of Cambridge and subsequently attended Nottingham Law School to complete her postgraduate legal studies. She is currently studying towards an MBA from the University of Auckland.
In choosing Jaya for this annual award, the judges said they were impressed with Jaya's range of experience, her understanding of the importance of good governance and her commitment to excellence.
"Her willingness to seek opportunities to extend herself, including through continuing education, is a credit to her. All that, coupled with the steps she has already taken towards governance, particularly through her position on the board of the Youth Hostel Association of NZ, make her an ideal candidate to receive this Emerging Director Award."
Jaya says she is looking forward to learning from more experienced directors as she develops her governance capabilities.
"Access to an experienced director as a mentor for a year will also be invaluable in helping me to navigate my next steps."
She also hopes that her example in winning this award will encourage others, particularly professionals under 40, to consider a career in governance, which is changing as new generations bring new expectations to the board table.
"Historically, the ultimate expectation on commercial boards was to maximise shareholder value. This is etched in our constitutions and within our legislation but its execution has become distorted from its purpose. I feel fortunate to have begun my governance journey at YHA, a not-for-profit, where we aim to live by our values of integrity, respect, excellence and passion. Interestingly, while still using shareholder value as an anchor, corporates are now looking for purposeful governance such as ours that is current with the times."
Organisational success, in her view, requires two things.
"Firstly, the courage to compose a board that is reflective of the people it exists to serve, and the issues it exists to solve. Secondly, it is difficult to spot one’s participation in ‘groupthink’. It takes mutual respect and self-awareness to accept views different to our own."
She hopes her willingness to speak plainly based on the facts in front of her will be valuable to her fellow board members.
"I don’t think I’m anything special - my strength has come from learning when to challenge the status quo and by simply speaking my mind. My particular areas of interest within governance include culture and conduct, the future of work and wellbeing."