A quick web search of Kat Cole, the president of Cinnabon, will reveal two facts about her: She’s a young executive of an international company, and she began her career at Hooters. This engaging, personable woman is much more than those two facts, though. She is also an avid traveler, humanitarian, dessert lover and dance music fan. By pursuing her personal interests and professional goals with single-minded energy, Cole has achieved an incredible amount for her age and set a wonderful example for women in any profession.
Do you see your career beginnings as a significant part of your success story?
I learned great things about leadership and business from being a waitress – where I was a waitress is sort of not the point. Because I worked for Hooters, I definitely faced challenges and discrimination as I moved into the professional world. But the good part is that it helped me build a really thick skin. At a very young age, I realized that people are going to talk, but you just have to do things that you’re proud of.
What inspired you to work as hard as you have to get where you are today?
For most of my career, I’ve had a heavy feeling of not wanting to let people down. I want to make people proud. I felt that way when I was a waitress, when I was an early manager in my career, when I was a director, and the first time I was a vice president. Because of that, I would show up earlier, stay later and work harder.
Who are some of the professionals who have influenced you?
I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by smart, talented, kind, high-integrity leaders pretty much my whole career. My first general manager when I was a teenager, Bonnie Rhinehardt, was an amazing person who taught me a different style of leadership. Other Hooters executives, like Cheryl Tyler and Kimi Riviera, were great leaders to learn from. Later, Russ Umphenour gave me an opportunity to become president of Cinnabon. The list is insanely long.
What charities are you involved with these days?
I spend time in Eastern Africa with Global Hopes Network International. Their work is about investing in people who can coach villages to learn to support themselves. A group of us travel to Rwanda and Ethiopia and meet with the village leaders, help them think through the challenges they’re facing, and when we come back, we raise funds to continue to fuel the organization.
How do you balance your work and home life?
Sometimes you’re going to be better at work than you are at home, and vice versa. It will ebb and flow, and that’s okay. It is so liberating and empowering to decide, “I’m not going to weigh myself down with feeling guilty about not being able to do all things for all people. I’ll do my best.” Also, you have to remember that if you aren’t healthy, you can’t bring the best version of yourself to work or to your family. There are lots of things that I can’t control, but I can control how healthy I am physically and mentally, and that gives me the strength to handle whatever happens.
What advice would you give a young girl thinking about her future career?
I would say don’t waste life’s precious time sitting around debating it for too long. Get out there and do something. You’ve got to show up, stand up and speak up if you ever want to move up. “Show up” means you’ve got to be there. “Stand up” is about having confidence. And “speak up” is about being able to articulate your view if you ever want to move up in school or in a career.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I am an insane fan of electronic dance music, European house music and trance music. It is 80 percent of my Pandora, iTunes and Spotify.
How do you like to relax?
By spending time with Chris, my better half. We have been happily unmarried for over 10 years. I also love spending time on the BeltLine and showing my family great experiences in Atlanta.
My favorite book for many years has been “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand – a classic. And I recently read “The Social Animal” by David Brooks. It’s about how the social nature of human beings really drives everything. It’s pretty amazing.
Favorite place to vacation?
Istanbul, by far. There is so much history, yet there is so much youth and technology and energy. It is just a beautiful setting, and the Turkish people are some of the most hospitable in the world.