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Wisdom from Kat Cole, President, Cinnabon

By September 10, 2014March 28th, 2021No Comments
wisdom from kat cole, color head shot, president cinnabon

In this blog series, “Wisdom from,” we look to successful leaders around the world, past and present, to see what insights they can share with us to make us better people, personally and professionally. Below is a window into Kat Cole.


Note:  Numbers in parenthesis refer to the sources in the Additional Reading at the bottom

  • Born the eldest of three sisters in Jacksonville, Florida  (1)
  • Raised in Orange Park, Florida mostly by her mother  (1)
  • Cole worked at The Body Shop before starting her career at Hooters as a hostess (3)
  • Dropped out of her undergraduate engineering program at the University of North Florida to focus on her global career at Hooters (2)
  • Received her MBA in 2010 from Georgia State University  (2)
  • Became vice president of training and development at age 26 of Hooters. Managed the growth of Hooters, from approximately 100 locations and $300M in revenue to 500 locations in 33 countries and $1BN in revenue (3)
  • Hired by Cinnabon Inc. in November 2010 at age 36. Named president in January 2011 (1)
  • Ranked #40 in Fortune’s 40 under 40 top young business stars (2013) (3)


Focus on the positive, even across a wide experiential or cultural background. By focusing on the good in a situation or in a person, Cole says she sees possibility where 99 percent of human beings do not. That’s true in Africa, where she spends time doing humanitarian work. And it’s also her philosophy in the boardroom, where she leads expansion projects in countries that find it taboo for women to be doing business at all, and where she – a former Hooters girl – often manages men much older than she is.  (2)


Cole attributes much of her success as a manager to her ability to make her staff feel confident. “I help people realize they’re capable of more than they know, and I do this in three ways: by being positive and hopeful, by creating comparisons, and by getting my hands dirty.” She says she has a basic knowledge of how to do every job at every Cinnabon, so she knows where her staff is coming from.  (1)


Cole always finds a way to see the possibilities in every situation. Seeing the good in people and situations is how she runs her career and her businesses. “The domino effect of every human interaction, it goes somewhere. And so if you can be a part of seeing what’s possible and helping other people see what’s possible or just helping them lean in a more positive than negative in any given moment, the trajectory that you put the whole world on, is pretty phenomenal,” she says.  (2)


“Use your empathy as your strength. It can help you understand the lens through which others see you…Whenever I leave a meeting, I pull one person aside and say, ‘Give me one thing that I could have done differently to be more effective.’” Cole says that specific wording is very important: it shows an openness to learning, it limits the advice to ‘one thing’, it asks for a suggestion instead of a criticism, and the phrase ‘more effective’ is much more neutral than ‘better.’  (1)


Despite her rise, Cole says she checks herself monthly with what she calls the “hotshot rule.” It’s a gut check of sorts. “[I] ask myself, if a hotshot took over my position today, what is one thing… that that person would do if they had my seat, and look at it and say, ‘That’s unacceptable. I’m fixing it immediately,'” says Cole. “I check in with my values and ask does my current situation, work, policies, demands, relationship, personal time, does it jive with my values? And if not, it’s on me to make a change.”  (4)


Holding back in meetings is something men don’t think to do, Cole says. “Only women would think a thought and then think, ‘when is a good time to say this?’” Cole says she once refrained from speaking up about a reservation she had about a project, and it ended up costing the company a lot of money. After that, she promised herself, “I will never be in a room where someone was paying me for my brain and not bring my whole self. We’re not going to leave the room until I’ve shared my thought.” But how can you steer the conversation if the moment to speak up has already passed? Cole says it’s simple. “I say, ‘before we leave, I’d just like to add one thing…’” in order to bring the conversation back on track.  (1)


Think bigger. Always think bigger than you even think you should. Cole is an advisor to several startups and she says that her most valuable advice is to always make more grand goals, shoot higher and reach further. “Even those people who have the good ideas, they hold back sometimes,” says Cole. When mentoring young entrepreneurs that Cole says become intimidated by risks, she tries to reframe the discussion to what is possible and not focus on the risks. “That puts your mind in a place where I think you act differently.”  (2)


Cole says she encourages her team to focus on what they learned from mistakes, not what they lost by making them. She does this by saying things like, “thank goodness it happened with a 5-state deal, not a 50-state deal,” to focus on the lesson, not the damage. She says this encourages her team to take risks, because they know they’re allowed to fail sometimes.  (1)


  1. Time Magazine, How Cinnabon President Kat Cole Went from Hostess to COO: 9 Tips for Success
  2. Entrepreneur Magazine, How Kat Cole Went from Hooters Girl to President of Cinnabon by Age 32
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Fast food president Kat Cole: How my single mom helped me succeed
  5. Twitter
  6. Instagram
  7. FocusBrands (her current role)

Photography Source:  Wikimedia

Ira Koretsky

Ira Koretsky has built The Chief Storyteller® into one of the most recognized names in communication, especially business storytelling. He has delivered over 500 keynote presentations and workshops in nearly a dozen countries, in more than one hundred cities, across 30 plus industries. His specialties are simplifying the complex and communicating when the stakes are high. He is also an adjunct professor in public speaking and storytelling at the University of Maryland's Business School. With over 25 years of experience, he is a sought-after storytelling coach, global speaker, trainer, consultant, communication coach, and public speaking coach.