The 6 Things I Like Most About Kat Cole

by on Nov 14 2013
in Blog

At the recent Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit, I got to hear a speech by Kat Cole, President of Cinnabon.

Cinnabon started off as a single shop in Seattle Washington. Now, Cinnabon has over 1,100 bakeries in over 56 countries. Cinnabon is also in 60,000 points of distribution in retail. They have partnerships with Burger King, Taco Bell, and have product sales of over $1 billion.

Now, you might think: “What exactly is so enlightening about Cinnabon?”

I think it’s Kat Cole and the team she gets to work with (they really get all the credit for the hard work).


Consider this: When Kat became President of Cinnabon there was an initiative called “Project 599.” The initiative was designed to get the classic cinnamon role down from 880 calories to 600 calories.  Kat and her team killed the initiative that had been working for almost 2 years.


Because Kat and her team spent time with employees and customers, and what they loved was THE INDULGENCE. They wanted to treat themselves. Plus, to get the cinnamon rolls down from 880 calories to 600 calories would mean artificial ingredients, modifying the size of the rolls, and doing things the consumer would feel were inauthentic. It didn’t feel right. More to the point, Cinnabon already had a 320 calories cinnamon roll called a MiniBon. But before Kat came on the scene, providing choice and variety wasn’t mandated consistently, missing out on how important that is when running an indulgent brand. She and the Cinnabon team aren’t afraid of being indulgent, but are conscious of the importance of providing  portion size variety and choice, so that Cinnabon is a more responsible provider of indulgences when making a product like Cinnabon Cinnamon rolls and other baked goods. This gives consumers a choice in how they treat themselves, when they want to treat themselves.


When Kat came on board, Cinnabon had developed a lower cost, lower capital franchise operation to help Cinnabon grow. Cinnabon had developed three smaller sizes of cinnamon rolls, but the franchisees didn’t want to carry all the smaller product AND some of the leadership team questioned the growth of the smaller “Express” business model, because of the fear of consumer confusion and trading down. They feared offering the smaller alternative would cause people to stop buying the regular thing.

Kat realized the fears were unfounded.

The reality was that offering something more accessible to consumers meant more people that never found Cinnabon as a possible connection in the first place would now find Cinnabon…and…it built a connection with the community that Cinnabon wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Now that Cinnabon has marketed the smaller cinnamon roll, ironically Cinnabon still sells more of the big ones than they ever have. Now that Cinnabon has a smaller business model that requires a smaller investment, allowing a broader variety of entrepreneurs to grow with it, as they scale, they look to Cinnabon to grow with the bigger model as well.


When Kat was 17, she started working as a hostess at Hooters. When she turned 18, she became a waitress at Hooters. One day, when the cooks quit, she went into the kitchen and learned to cook. When the manager quit, she learned how to count the cash, and so on. Certain things happened that allowed her to learn a lot about the business and to fall in love with it. At 19, while she was in school, Hooters called Kat and asked her go to Australia to open the first Hooters in Australia. She got the opportunity because she had worked every job in the restaurant, she was good with the employees, and she knew how to run the business if something went wrong. At 20 years old, the corporate office at Hooters called her and asked to interview Kat for a corporate position. It opened up a whole new possibility for Kat.

The upshot of all this is that the opportunities in Kat’s life have been because of her being a learner, wanting to help, being curious, and being brave enough to lean on smart people when it came time to make tough decisions.


When Kat was 9 years old, she learned a valuable lesson in leadership from her mom. Kat’s father was a good person, but a bad husband and father. Kat’s mom realized that if she didn’t take her children out of that situation, who would? It was a tough situation and if she didn’t do it now, then when would she? And if she waited, would something worse happen?

It instilled in Kat the understanding that: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

This is critical for leading in today’s environment. Instead of staying the same because “things could be worse”, leaders today need to strive to make things better. They ask: “Where is my bar of excellence?”

It’s not necessarily about more.

It’s about better. Always.

In addition to her mom, Kat learned leadership from Hooters restaurants. She spent 16 years there. When she started, they had 100 locations. When she left, they had almost 500 locations and had grown to over 30 countries. Kat says, “Hooters didn’t exploit women, they employed women”. She had learned to lead through adversity. Kat now knows it’s less about WHAT you do as a leader or business, and more about HOW you do it. She understands that we want people connected to society in all types of capitalistic organizations. We want people that care about the experience of their company in every type of organization.

Kat has had the experience of being welcomed by people because of her association with Hooters… and being treated like a leper. Yet, she’s here for the cause of elevating herself and others. She’s here to do the right things for the right reasons in any given moment. She’s here to learn, grow, and lead.


When Kat was 19 years old and working at Hooters, people would ask her: “What do you want to do when you get older since you won’t be at Hooters forever?” And Kat would say, “Well, I’m changing the world one chicken wing at a time.” And working with Cinnabon franchisee’s Kat says: “You’re changing the world one bun at a time.” Kat has always felt a deep connection with people, anywhere and everywhere.

In fact, Kat crystallized her experience with a quote she heard from Dr. Bertice Berry: “When you walk with purpose, you collide with destiny.”

Kat always knew her purpose was to help people realize they are capable of more than they know. She did that with her sisters, she did that at Hooters, she does it with Cinnabon franchisees, she does it in Africa, and she does it with friends and family. That is her gift to the world. It doesn’t matter where Kat works or what company she’s with, that’s her purpose. And when Kat lives her purpose, she does great things as a result.


Kat has done a lot of volunteer work in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya.

When Kat and a small group of friends went to Ethiopia, they asked: “How do we know what villages to work with?” After all, there’s so much need. There are so many places that effort, money, and time can be invested (like in business). The answer was captured in a quote by Billy Shore, Founder of Share Our Strength, “Small enough to change, big enough to matter.” Kat realized we have to find people and places that are small enough to change and big enough to matter. If they’re not willing to change, the opportunity cost of the effort may be too great. If there’s not big enough to create future influence and sustain it, it’s also too great of a risk of resources.

Kat and her group met a man named Ibrahim and his daughter, and Ibrahim was incredibly sick. The group Kat was with refused to leave Ibrahim. They picked him up, at the urging of a member of their group, took him to a hospital, and they were able to help save his life. Prior to this, the village was questioning the loyalty of this humanitarian group. In an instant, because of the group’s willingness to help and simply do the right things for the right reasons, it changed everything. Kat’s group was there for the village when it counted.

As Kat says, “Nothing is more valuable than being there for our community, our people, our teams, and our partners when it counts and building trust. Nothing is more important.”

Let me leave you with some questions, and let me know in the comments below…

Where can you be more realistic in your life and business?

Where can you be more strategic in your life and business?

How are you taking initiative to learn more everyday?

Where and how can you be an inspiration to yourself and others?

What and how can you contribute to the world?

Where can you be a leader?

As Kat says, “Leaders are a bridge. They help all people become more conscious, and aware, and intentional, and creative, and connected with what they do everyday.”


Click here to read all of the comments on this post.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.