"You were really young and you were a Hooters girl, so you were probably just cute and they wanted you around so they gave you an opportunity.”
34-year old Cinnabon president Kat Cole may have gotten her start in business in an usual way – as a Hooters girl – but she says that’s not why she got ahead.
“All my bosses were women,” she says, “so they may have thought I was cute, but I can assure you that is not why they coached me and gave me opportunities.”
Kat took a job at the restaurant chain as a 17-year old high school student trying to earn money for college, and she was a 19-year old engineering student at the University of North Florida when Hooters offered her an amazing opportunity: traveling to Sydney Australia to open the first Hooters restaurant there.
"I had never been on a plane. I didn't have a passport. I had never been out of the country," says Kat. "I had every reason to say no, but I didn't."
That trip led to a job opening foreign Hooters locations all over the world, and the college student soon realized she couldn't stay on top of both school and her new job. She dropped out of college and took a corporate job with the restaurant chain.
Over the next few years, she rose quickly in the ranks, rising up to a vice president position by the age of 26. She was proud of where she had gotten, but her mentors were telling her that if she wanted to have any chance of rising up further, she'd have to finish her education. At the age of 28, she returned to school at Georgia State University to get her MBA while working full-time.
"I was meeting with analysts and bankers and attorneys and I would think, thank goodness I went to class yesterday, because I actually understand what they're saying!" Kat says. "The learning became deeply ingrained. It was the best version of practical application of the learning. I didn't sleep for two years, but it was worth it."
In 2010, Kat left Hooters for Cinnabon, where at the age of 34, she is president of a billion dollar business. She says she got there by seeing opportunities instead of obstacles.
"Instead of saying I can't do that or being convinced that there's just no way you're a fit, you should say, what would I need to do that?" she says.
Today, Kat says she's grateful for all the opportunities she's had.
"I never could have imaged where I would go because I was always just so grateful for where I was," she says, "and I think there's something about that crazy level of gratitude that ends up building a path to other places."