Profile: Katherine Henderson

Empowering women through sport

Written by: Pat Morden

It’s a winding path that has led Katherine Henderson, ’86 to her current position. Looking back, she can see how it all fits together.

It began with growing up in an active family in Thunder Bay. “My mother and father played tennis, golfed, and skied, and sports were important to all of us,” she says. In 1981 she volunteered with the Canada Summer Games in her hometown, experiencing first hand the impact of a major sporting event on a community.

The following year, she arrived at Brescia. Throughout her degree in Foods and Nutrition, she took several courses on the main campus, but found that she preferred the Brescia environment. “I really grew to appreciate the small classes,” she says. “At Brescia I had world-renowned professors teaching undergraduate classes. I’m not sure that I realized what a privilege that was until later.”

After graduation she worked at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto and in public health. But it was when she started an MBA that she discovered her true passion. “I took my first marketing class, and I was hooked!” She moved into marketing roles with leading packaged goods companies, including Colgate Palmolive Canada, Campbell Soup Canada, and General Mills Canada. As part of her work, she had an opportunity to work on sport sponsorship deals with the NHL, major league baseball, women’s professional golf, the NBA, and the Olympics.

She put that experience to work as Senior Vice President Marketing and Revenue for the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games Organizing Committee. For Henderson, it was a chance to make a difference in her community. “I knew that facilities, programs, volunteerism and development would all be part of a valuable
legacy left behind, and I wanted to be part of that.”

So many good things happen when girls play sports. Sports organizations and people, like me, have to make sure that we’re aware of any barriers that keep anyone from getting involved, and work very hard to remove them.

When the hugely successful Games were over, Henderson chose to stay with sport, becoming CEO of Curling Canada. “I have nothing but respect for athletes, whatever level or sport,” she explains. “I’ve seen what sport does for people and communities, and the values it teaches. It can be a very pure thing.”

Curling is a $600 million sport in Canada, with just under two million curlers at all levels. Canadian teams won all the gold medals in the last winter Olympics, and are undefeated champions in men’s and women’s curling globally. Events like the Brier, the Tournament of Hearts, and the World Championships are massive, with TV audiences in the millions. Yet Henderson says there are challenges. “Today almost all sports are available to all people, so the competition is higher to get people to like and support your sport,” she says. “We have to work hard to engage younger people and new Canadians, many of whom come from countries that don’t have ice.” It’s also important, she says, to ensure that Curling Canada events are competitive with other major entertainment options, including the NBA and major league baseball.

Henderson is also Vice Chair of Rugby Canada and sits on a committee looking at women in rugby globally. She points to research that shows, while girls are less likely to participate in sport, those who do are more confident and better able to manage relationships and life’s challenges. “So many good things happen when girls play sports,” she says. “Sports organizations and people, like me, have to make sure that we’re aware of any barriers that keep anyone from getting involved, and work very hard to remove them.” She also wants to see more women in sports management and leadership. “Women should have a say in how their sport is played, and in how it’s run, administered and funded.”