Kat Cole is a leader who is unusually connected to communities through social media; is very active in advising and investing in start-ups; and is an avid humanitarian in some of the poorest areas of the world. She is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum; started a foundation to fund creative, sustainable approaches to education and self-sufficiency; and was one of only two foodservice company leaders listed on CNBC’s Next 25 List Innovators, Leaders and Disruptors in 2014. She is passionate about creating and highlighting opportunities, innovation and community building that come out of the foodservice industry.
Before being promoted to her current position, Cole spent four years as President of Cinnabon, Inc., where she was accountable for leading, evolving and building the team and multi-channel brand. During her tenure, Cole’s team accomplished franchise unit growth, profitability, franchisee satisfaction, philanthropic partnerships, and comp sales performance that was the strongest the brand had seen in over a decade. In that same time, Cinnabon’s awareness, cult following, social media engagement, and multi-channel retail products and brand extensions were in the top of its segment and the industry at large. In 2013, Cinnabon passed $1 billion in annual branded product sales globally through all retail channels.
In her current role at FOCUS Brands Inc., she leads the innovative, high-growth division, building all FOCUS brands in consumer packaged goods, foodservice licensing, global licensed platforms and E-commerce. FOCUS has more than 4,000 ice cream shops, bakeries, restaurants and cafés in the United States and 60 countries under the Moe’s, Schlotzsky’s, Auntie Anne’s, Carvel, McAllister’s Deli, Seattle’s Best Coffee and Cinnabon Brands.
Prior to her roles with FOCUS Brands, Inc., Cole was vice president of training and development for Hooters of America, Inc., which operates and franchises restaurants and manages the Hooters® brand entities. Her story is often shared for inspiration as she moved up from working as a restaurant hostess at 17 years old to server, bartender, traveling globally to help open new franchises and learning every job in the restaurant business.
She joined Hooters’ corporate office at 20, and became a vice president at the age of 26, making her one of the youngest executives in chain restaurants. She was a member of the Hooters executive team that built the franchise to 400 units in 28 countries, before being sold to private equity in late 2010.
She completed her MBA at Georgia State University in her final two years as an executive at Hooters and while chair of the board of the Georgia Restaurant Association and Board member of the Women’s Foodservice Forum.
Cole is the co-founder of Changers of Commerce—a movement and group of leaders who identify with mixing money and meaning and making as much of a difference in the world as they make a profit. Being a Connected, Creative and Conscious Capitalist not only produces return on investment, it connects with stakeholders, including current and emerging employees and consumers who will drive business and build brands for many years to come.
Cole was named Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson School of Business “Distinguished Young Alumni Award” in 2011; was featured with Cinnabon on CBS' Undercover Boss in 2012; listed on Fortune magazine’s “40 Under 40” in 2013; and CNBC’s “Next 25 List of Innovators, Leaders and Disruptors” in 2014.
Her personal story, business approach and perspectives on leadership have been the subject of feature articles in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, Fortune and Cosmopolitan, among others. She has been a featured guest on CBS, CNN, Bloomberg CNBC, MSNBC and more.
She is often quoted as saying “Don’t forget where you came from, but don’t you dare let it solely define you.”