"If not me, than who. If not now, then when"
KAT COLE says she owes it all to those tiny orange shorts. While still in high school she began serving wings and beer at the Hooters on San Jose Boulevard.
The next year, the head office of Hooters of America in Atlanta called the restaurant and asked the manager, Bonnie Rhinehardt, for the best employee there to accompany a team to Australia to open that country's first Hooters. Bonnie chose Kat, age 19, because:
1) "She was just eager to learn," Rhinehardt said. "You can go and just do your job every day, or you can do the best job every day. She really wanted to learn everything she could."
2) "She was always truly interested in customers," she said. "It wasn't just about serving food and putting a drink on the table. It was about 'How's your day, how's the family?'
3) "She'd remember everybody's name and what they did for a living. Not just the regulars who came in every day, but everybody."
Kat stated, "I didn't have a passport, I'd never even been on a plane." "I was a Jacksonville girl. I'd been on a school bus."
Her first plane ride ever was a quick trip down to Miami to get an immediate passport. Her second was to Sydney, where she spent 40 days training the new staff.
The next year there were more trips to open the first Hooters in Mexico City, in Buenos Aires, the first French-speaking Hooters in Quebec. Next Kat traveled to the company headquarters in Atlanta where she was put in charge of training for the entire chain.
More promotions came along and Kat settled in her VP position in 2005. She got her MBA at Georgia State University in Atlanta, even though she had never finished her undergraduate degree. A handful of letters from executives talking about her decade of corporate experience apparently helped make up the difference.
"I remember the first time I saw a Hooters in The Jacksonville Landing, and I thought, 'That looks like fun.' "And it was.” Kat had fun in a casual environment with flexible hours. Also the money was a lot better than it was in retail.
"While I was with Hooters, the company grew from 100-150 in just a handful of countries to almost 500 in 33 countries.
In 2010, Kat left her position as a vice president at Hooters and made the move to Cinnabon as their Chief Operating Officer. Cinnabon is one of the four subsidiaries of Focus Brands, which also owns Carvel, Schlotzsky's and Moe's Southwest Grill. She described it simply as a good opportunity, and the bun company is doing just fine during this time of economic trouble and carb counting.
Three months later, at the age of 32, Kat was named president of the company.
“Since joining us only three months ago, Kat has made a tremendous impact on the Cinnabon brand, assessing and addressing key strategic opportunities while learning and leading the business,” said Russ Umphenour, CEO of parent company FOCUS Brands. “Kat is a natural leader and a relationship-builder. She has spent a great deal of time in the field getting to know our franchise partners and their teams, as well as learning about their day-to-day needs and challenges.”
"I started researching the brand before I took the job," she said. "With so many less people going to malls because of online shopping, I was expecting to see a drop of 10-15 percent in sales. But it ended up being just a couple of percent in comparable store sales. "I was shocked."
There are close to 800 Cinnabons out there, in malls, travel plazas, casinos. Only four were owned by Focus Brands, the rest are franchises.
Her job, Kat said, is this: "I run the brand. If it fails, I fail. If it succeeds, the team succeeds. "Our goal is to grow value for the stakeholders and the franchise owners. The person who owns a Cinnabon, if I and my team do our job, their business grows."
"When people come to Cinnabon," Kat said, "they're not looking for a salad. They're looking for a special treat. I'm a healthy person, I run a lot. And when I first came here, I spoke to a nutritionist and asked what she thought of Cinnabon. "She said she tells people that they get discretionary calories or cheat days. "My job is to make Cinnabon their discretionary calories."
Other fast-food chains have responded to the desire for healthier foods by adding salads and fruit, but Cinnabon can't really do that, according to Nima Samadi, a restaurant industry analyst for market research firm IBISWorld. "It's just not the nature of this product," he said.
In 15 short years, Kat has gone a long way from serving that first basket of wings, that first pitcher of beer. And, yes, she knows the reaction she gets when people find out she was a Hooters girl. But once people hear the whole story and find out about Hooters work environment, they have a new respect for Hooters and the girls who work there.
Kat is a great example of what you can be accomplished through hard, responsible work!