Kat Cole, Hooters Girl Turned Business Whiz, Transforms Cinnabon Into A Billion Dollar Brand

According to a Businessweek report, Cinnabon sales will reach $1 billion this year and it's mostly thanks to the company's new president, 34-year-old Kat Cole.

Cole began her career as a Hooters waitress at 17, working to help her single mother pay the bills. When Hooters offered her a life-changing opportunity to open their first restaurant in Australia, she was only 19 and had never been on a plane -- she didn't even have a passport.

But within two weeks of returning from Sydney, Hooters asked her to open another restaurant in Central America, followed by South America, Asia, Africa and Canada. Cole dropped out of engineering school and started moving up the corporate ladder on a high school diploma, eventually becoming Hooters' Vice President during her 15 years at the company.

"I worked my buns off," Cole told HuffPost Live in an interview last month.

In 2010 she moved to Cinnabon to become their chief operating officer, and one month later she was promoted to president. The success she's brought to Cinnabon is two-fold.

First, at a time when health and wellness are at the forefront of everyone's minds, Cole embraces Cinnabon's calorie overload. She emphasizes the sensory experience that comes with every roll, and says that everyone -- no matter how healthy -- needs to indulge every once in a while.

"If you’re going to give yourself a treat, give yourself something that is so worth it," she told CBS in an interview earlier this year. "It has more pleasure per calorie than anything else that’s out there."

Second, she moved the Cinnabon brand far beyond the shopping mall, working with partners like Pillsbury and Keebler to bring the brand to 72 different products on grocery store shelves. She even brought Cinnabon Delights to Taco Bell and Minibons to Burger King.

She eventually earned an MBA from Georgia State on nights and weekends, and graduated just after she started at Cinnabon.

When Forbes asked her what advice she'd give to young women in business, she responded, "Get diversity in where your experience comes from. Volunteer. Be a part of some industry organization... When you do the right things for the right reasons, it always pays you back."



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