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She Got Her Start as a Hooters Waitress. Now She Runs a Billion Dollar Company

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One of the things our generation would really love to change in society is to see more female leaders in business. It’s on the rise, there’s no doubt about that, but we still feel there aren’t enough female role models for women to learn and take notes from on how to find success while growing a business. That’s why when we got the chance to chat with Cinnabon President Kat Cole, we couldn’t wait to pick her brain and learn how a real female boss handles business.

You might have heard of Kat Cole before under headlines like “How a Former Hooter’s Waitress Became Cinnabon’s President,” but we found much more than what an interesting headline told us. Kat is the product of a hard working single mother, one of three daughters growing up on a $10 a week food budget in Jacksonville, Florida. The amazing story starts with what Kat learned in those challenging years growing up that made her an intelligent and ambitious woman that rose quickly in corporate America. Today she manages a billion dollar a year company, works to help women and bring water to villages in Rwanda and Ethiopia, and is poised to be one of the greatest role models for women everywhere who aspire to succeed in a business world mostly dominated by men.

We had the great pleasure of sitting down with Kat for a conversation on the importance of street smarts, her ongoing work in Africa, what it’s like being an undercover boss, and how women should think to be more successful in the business world. Here are some of the highlights from our interview with Kat:

It begins with us going to meet with Kat in her hotel by LAX while she was briefly staying in Los Angeles. Casually talking to her before the interview, we quickly found out that she was not only very sharp and a woman of grand vision, but she was very kind-hearted and open, something that’s very refreshing after talking to many male business leaders in corporate America.

We started by asking Kat what she thinks about being known online as the Hooter’s waitress who became the President of a company. Here’s what a bit of what she said.

“So you don’t typically see that headline of other CEOs, yet many of them in fact were waiters and waitresses. But the fact that I was a waitress at Hooters just makes it fun for people to talk about. At the end of the day, it’s cool as long as they’re pointing at great things, you know, like the elevation of women leaders, like doing good in the world, building businesses.”

We then asked what she does want to be known or remembered for.

“Just someone who eventually will leave a legacy of helping others. One of the things I was able to do since I was very young is help people see that they are capable of more than they know. And if you can help people see that, then you can help companies, communities and countries see that because they’re nothing more than groups of people. So I want that to be what’s left behind or what I’m known for.”

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Kat then went on to tell us about how her family managed with so little growing up and how it shaped her way of thinking as she got older. It’s no surprise now that an ambitious woman like Kat accomplished all she did growing up with a mother that basically taught her how to hustle in life.

“I had one of those family situations where yeah, it was tough, but I had this example of a leader who never gave up, who was always positive, just figured things out, was so supportive and encouraging, and even though we didn’t have a lot of money and we went through tough times, that is the greatest gift… I learned to love spam and potted meat and frozen lasagna and beenie weenies and it was cool.”

We got to talking about what it’s like being a president of a company with locations at every mall and airport. She told us how it was working with young people, what it was like being an undercover boss, and then we asked her to tell us a funny story of when she got her hands dirty at one of her stores but ended up breaking a few company rules.

“…so I got to finish frosting the rolls and I literally put my finger in the bowl, grabbed the frosting and licked the frosting in front of everyone standing there in this food operation and then I went “Oh crap.” We now have to throw the whole bowl of frosting.”

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We eventually got to talking a bit about her work in Africa and what she thinks women should be doing and not doing in the business world. Kat had some interesting points to say on how women should be thinking in order to find success.

“I think sometimes women, particularly young women, can get a little bit of analysis paralysis by trying to diagnose the reason that someone’s not giving them the opportunity and they think maybe, ‘Oh, it’s because I’m a woman or because I’m young…’ …Be thoughtful in your approach and have a point of view and speak up. That has served me well and because of that, that inner core confidence, that belief that people would put me somewhere for a reason and I better be the best version of me that I can be. I don’t think there have been a lot of gender based obstacles, at least not that I’ve been willing to acknowledge or that I’ve given any credibility to.”

She then shared a lesson she learned from a friend about leaving great impressions on people in business and where that can take you as well as what she thinks of female entrepreneurs.

“She used to always say ‘it’s not about the event, it’s about the event after the event,’ meaning it’s not about that moment or that interaction or that meeting, it’s about what that person is left with and what they think about you and what they then go do as a result.”

“I think maybe going after the woman entrepreneur may be a little more of a sure bet but women tend to hold themselves back because they’re not going after those big things. ““I see a lot of women who will come to me and say “How do you do it?” You know, how do you balance taking care of yourself or your family and work and friends and all of that and I just look at them and say, ‘I don’t. No one does. No one balances it…’ …the women that I find that are most successful are the ones that learned to just be totally cool with themselves and not to be so hard on themselves and just understand that you’re never going be perfect.”

Kat had so many more interesting points to share with us. Go to the next page to check out the full interview- you won’t be disappointed.

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With a bachelor's degree in International Studies: Political Science from University of California, San Diego, Waylae works as a blogger/editor for NextShark. Along with writing, he is an aspiring entrepreneur that enjoys hip-hop, fashion, and learning about new cultures.
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