Forbes Women: View Original Article
Article By Tanya Tarr
What are you willing to fight for in this world? Fighting to end cancer is Jennifer Huggins‘s mission. Huggins is the founder and owner of Kingsway Boxing Club in Toronto, Canada, and is a three-star Olympic boxing referee and judge with AIBA International Boxing Association. She is also the Executive Director of the Fight To End Cancer, a nonprofit that blends her expertise in boxing with her love for engaging with her community. Both boxing and fundraising for important causes has helped Huggins hone a strong set of negotiation skills. Let’s see what she has to share:
Jennifer Huggins is founder and Executive Director of the Fight To End Cancer, a nonprofit that raises money for cancer research. In addition to being a National Canadian boxing coach, she is the only female three-star boxing referee in North America. She officiates at the Olympic and international level. Photo courtesy Al Quintero Photography.
Tanya Tarr: How has being a coach and referee informed your success in business negotiations?
Jennifer Huggins: Maintaining a clear perspective and honoring fairness is always key. As a boxing official, I play the role of both referee and judge. I pride myself on being fair in and outside of the ring. It’s important to me to not let previous achievements or performances of an individual boxer influence the officiating of a bout. I have made it practice to look at every situation with a fresh perspective and without any preconceived ideas. I apply this to my business negotiations as well. Everyone deserves a clean slate no matter what the context, and maintaining that perspective has served me well in business and in the ring.
The strongest negotiation advice I can give is: understand the rules, understand your tools, know how to use them well and know that developing respect will carry you a long way. So will doing your research. If you don’t take the time to learn your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, there’s not going to be any collaboration, or any match, especially if you’re coming in as the underdog. In boxing, we can hug our opponents at the end because we know we’re going to come up again and again to fight the same person in that journey to a belt. It’s the same in business, too. Respect is key in maintaining those long term relationships, because you will end up working with a lot of the same people over and over again.
Tarr: How did you find your way to boxing?
Huggins: I was a competitive figure skater at a young age. When I was 14, I cracked a bone in my neck, and had to go through extensive physical rehabilitation. Boxing wasn’t a planned choice, but I found it when I got bored with my usual physical training. I fell in love with boxing because there was an instant connection for me – it was like ice skating and landing a jump. I was experiencing the same thing in boxing, in being able to work towards a goal, like landing a punch and being confident about it.
I’m a competitive person, and so I decided I wanted to do everything I could to compete. I got quite a lot of resistance – in part because of my gender and my size – but managed to get some fights under my belt. At the time, there weren’t many women who were in boxing or in my weight class, so it was challenging to be in the sport. People thought of me more as a novelty, or didn’t think I really belonged in the sport. So I did what I could to keep fighting, and started coaching, eventually opening my own gym. Back then, I didn’t know anything about negotiation, so I would set up programs for other gyms and they would take 70% of the fees. Eventually, I knew I could go out on my own and coach, so that’s when I opened Kingsway Boxing Club, and we have a full schedule of competitive training programs.
Tarr: What motivated you to start the Fight To End Cancer?
Huggins: About five years ago, I started the Fight To End Cancer for two reasons. The first was I was watching a friend of mine fight her way through cancer, and she was the most inspirational fighter I’ve ever seen. She lost her fight in 2013, and taught me everything I need to know about fighting. The second reason I started the Fight To End Cancer was I wanted to give back to the community that sustains my businesses, and the effort brings a lot of facets of my background together.
Every year, the Fight To End Cancer signs up around ten people from the corporate world, like CEOs and presidents of companies, to train as boxers. They compete in a sanctioned fight. We’re in our sixth year now. And it’s not exhibition, it’s a sanctioned fight – so that means people have to get their medicals done and actually train. It’s usually about six months of training, and happens every summer. There is also a gala celebration, and it is the culmination of all the work they’ve done.
My role in all of this is to raise sponsorship dollars, both for the gala and to support the further development of this program and deepen community support. We want to take the campaign to schools and make the program international. There’s a lot of negotiation that goes into closing the sponsorship deals. So when I’m talking to a company that’s interested in sponsoring, I try to listen to the needs of the company and match that to a shared vision that we can help support.
It’s about alignment in values, too. I’ve turned down money before. It’s important to me to figure out what the potential partner wants to do and also find out if they maintain the same values that we hold. Currency for me is not just dollar bills, but is a means to solve a problem together. The return on investment can’t be valued in numbers alone, but should include impact of those dollars. A sponsorship deal will come in because I help the company I’m negotiating with understand that the true value of their sponsorship includes amplifying our fundraising ability. They’re adding to a pot of resources that allows for a greater reach – their investment could help us achieve our $1,000,000 goal in a way that no one organization could accomplish alone. So it’s expanding the perception of what the shared goal could be, between our organization and the sponsors and companies that support us. And that shared vision is how we’re going to knock cancer out for good.