Kat Cole, the 35-year-old president of Cinnabon, had an unlikely rise to corporate power.
For 15 years Cole worked at Hooters, starting off as a waitress and working her way up to becoming vice president.
At first, the job was just to help pay for college, since she had to pay for her education herself.
Cole had a humble beginning, growing up under a single mother who fed her family for $10 a week, mostly with canned food and frozen lasagna.
So Cole took as job as a waitress at the sports bar chain’s Jacksonville location.
But the more she worked at Hooters, the more it took her away from school at the University of North Florida and her dream of becoming an engineer.
Soon she was filling in for managers, and eventually the company asked the then 19-year-old Cole to help open a store in Australia.
After that, the company continued to ask her to help with other openings, first in Mexico then Argentina and two U.S. states.
‘I came back to school and was failing because I hadn’t been there,’ she told Bloomberg Businessweek.
Cole then transitioned from opening to stores to training employees at Hooters headquarters in Atlanta.
By the time she was 26, Cole had become a vice president all without a college degree.
But a determined Cole changed that by enrolling in Georgia State University’s Executive MBA program.
In 2010, Cole left the company when she was hired by Focus Brands to be the new chief operating officer of Cinnabon.
Two months after she finished her MBA, the company promoted her to president of Cinnabon.
While some have questioned Cole’s quick rise to power, she points out that she’s only ever had one male boss.
Since coming to Cinnabon, Cole has helped the bakery chain expand outside of the mall food court through licensing deals.
This year Cinnabon retail sales will hit $1billion and that’s due in large part to her marketing strategy.
Now you can get versions of the Cinnabon at Taco Bell and Burger King. You can eat Keebler Cinnabon cookies and taste the Cinnabon flavoring in your morning bowl of Cream of Wheat.
Soon you’ll be able to buy Cinnabon-flavored Green Mountain Coffee K-cups for your Keurig and add Cinnabon-flavored International Delight Creamer.
‘The brand punches way above its weight,’ said Cole.
But Cole has also come to power at a time when there is increased pressure on food producers to help change American eating habits.
The Cinnabon is an infamously indulgent dessert and the classic roll comes in at a whopping 880 calories with 36 grams of fat and 56 grams of sugar. That’s the equivalent of eating two Big Macs.
‘It’s almost pornographic,’ she says. ‘It’s just so over-the-top.’
While Cole has considered changing the product to reflect a more health-conscious consumer, she decided in the end not to change a thing.
Market research also proved that while customers wouldn’t eat the enormous Cinnabon often, they wanted the option to have it when they wanted.
That once-in-while indulgence had to be ‘so worth it – which Cinnabon is,’ Cole said. ‘It became obvious that it was not the route to go.’