HBIC – Kat Cole

Photo credit: Steph Grant


When you go from Hooters Girl to President of one of the world’s largest food brands, that’s called a come up. This lady is living proof of how patience, dedication, persistence, passion and bravery will pay off.

Kat Cole grew up in Jacksonville, FL with her mom and two sisters – and a weekly budget of $10 for groceries. Her dad was an alcoholic and had stepped away from the family. When Kat was in High School, she got a job at Hooters. While this was a job that people admittedly tend to look down upon, she took her job seriously and worked hard – and management took notice. She says if a cook walked off the job, she went in and cooked wings. If a bartender didn’t show up, she made drinks.

When she was 19, she was still working at Hooters, but was in college studying engineering. One day corporate called her location of employment and asked the manager who her best employee was. She named Cole. They wanted to send her to Australia for two weeks to open a new franchise. She’d never been on a plane, or hardly even gone outside of Northern Florida, but accepted the offer without consideration.  Soon enough, Hooters was flying her all over North America, South America & the Caribbean to set up new locations. She was enjoying her job, but her school work was suffering – to the point of failing classes. Her ultimate goal had been to become a corporate lawyer. But suddenly, she found herself considering ditching school and pursuing her success at Hooters – despite still being an hourly employee, with no real clear intentions from the company in regards to future growth.

Kat dropped out of college just two months before her tentative graduation with an Associate degree. She was traveling the world, doing something she loved, and knew deep down that she was clearly a much better employee than the average. She knew school would always be there if she needed it, and decided that following her gut was more important.

Not long after making this decision, at the age of 20, Hooters offered her a corporate job in human resources and moved her to Atlanta. A few years later, she was promoted to VP for training & development. She immersed herself into the restaurant culture, volunteering throughout the industry  and being on nonprofit boards. By the time she was 26, she was one of the Vice Presidents at Hooters. She led all of the training & operational franchising. Oh, she was also obtaining a MBA from Georgia State – without a Bachelor degree.

In 2010, one of the large groups she’d come in contact with through her networking recruited her as a candidate for the position of PRESIDENT of Cinnabon. She got the job. She turned the brand around and led the company to its highest year-over-year sales increase in the history of its existence. NOW she’s a Group President at Focus Brands, the company that OWNS Cinnabon, as well as Moe’s and Auntie Ann’s.

Kat also now personally invests in women-founded startups, and helps build the brands and advise the companies toward success. She is also actively involved in different lines of charity work.

In one of her recent interviews, the final thing she was asked was what advice she’d give women who are trying to figure out their lives. This was her response:

“Don’t waste too much time trying to figure it out. Half the battle is doing something and getting started. Focus on things small enough to change and big enough to matter. Don’t pine over it or think too long, because the sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll know if it’s right.”

How much of a badass is she? Reading her story was so enlightening & encouraging for me. Most of us tend to seek instant gratification – and our professional lives can really, really test us at times when things are moving slower than we’d like or seem uncertain. But women like this show us that if we just believe in ourselves, work hard, and practice patience – good things will come. What’s your dream job? Are you going for it?

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