Women At The Top: Kat Cole, CEO, Cinnabon

Kat Cole,
CEO, Cinnabon

Kat ColeStats/Facts:

System revenue: Do not disclose
No. of units: 1,100
Public or private: Private
Growth plans: Continue multi-channel expansion--we just hit $1 billion in global product sales from 60,000 points of distribution and would like to hit $2 billion from 100,000 points in 5 years; grow to 2,000 units in 5 years
Founded: 1985
Began franchising: 1988
Years with company: 3-plus
Years in franchising: 15
International locations: 500-plus

Questions

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Having a strong single mother as a parent taught me confidence, grace, trust, and resilience. Traveling all over the world for business shaped my skills in flexibility, influence, and compassion. Ongoing education, as well as non-profit and industry volunteer work, taught me about lifelong learning, benchmarking, and building meaningful relationships across functions and industries.

Role models?
My mom, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Warren Buffet.

Management gurus or books that have deeply affected you:
The classics by Covey, Bossidy, Collins, and Lencioni, as well as Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey, The Social Animal by David Brooks, and Lessons from Warren Buffett.

Has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Of course. I've benefited from many mentoring moments in my life where others took the time to share perspective, give me candid feedback, and be a sounding board. A few specific individuals have been there for me for many years as informal mentors, but the cumulative mentoring moments from my employees, peers, bosses, friends, and connections have been invaluable.

Female leaders you admire:
My mom, Justice Sotomayor, Fritzi Woods, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Marissa Meyer, Melanie Hobson. They are strong, resilient, driven, not afraid to be who they are in any setting, and all took very different paths to their own version of success.

Advice for young female CEO aspirants:
Be so curious, competent, committed, and helpful that people can't help but want to be on your team. Bring your whole self to work. Don't listen to the voice in your head that doubts whether or not you deserve to be in a certain role or whether or not you are good enough. Teach and give to others. Know how you are perceived and the effect you have on others. Remember that everything... in every situation... is about them and the effect you have on them (whoever "them" is). If that doesn't match the effect you desire, work on it. Keep learning from everyone and everything around you: life is a powerful education if you pay attention, and benefits your world if you are humble enough to be introspective and smart enough to apply lessons you learn.

Leadership style:
Relatable, empowering, results-focused, giving, coaching, open, positive, change- and risk-oriented.

Was becoming CEO of an organization part of your professional plan?
No, not for most of my professional career. I was just happy to be making a difference, serving others, and continuing to learn. It was only when I got very close to that top role in my career progression that I acknowledged running a brand and business was the next logical step to be able to make a bigger difference in people's lives and to continue to challenge myself.

What do you love most about being CEO?
Generally, seeing the growth and successes of our team and franchisees. Specifically, I love being a part of movements that help people, departments, companies, or communities with their breakthrough moments, when they realize they are capable of more than they previously knew and then act on it. It's awesome.

How much of your time do you spend at that, and what are you doing to spend more?
Most of my time is spent doing that, in one form or another, whether it's helping people confront reality, marshaling resources to help others be more successful, helping to bring out the best in a culture, holding franchisees and team members accountable, learning from others, celebrating wins, or even the tough conversations. They are all a version of helping people and companies get to their best place in life and business.

What do you like most about what your brand/legacy represents?
In terms of our brand, Cinnabon embodies the belief that in life we deserve sweet moments, treats, and rewards--"Life Needs Frosting" really says it all. It gives people permission to treat themselves and do so with something so high-quality and so very, very worth it. In terms of my personal legacy, I think it most represents that anything is possible if you believe, give, serve, learn, and have a bias for action. It takes away excuses, provides motivation, and empowers people who may not have a clear path laid out for them.

What role does diversity play in your management team?
It's key to our culture and success. It is foundational to our understanding of our consumers. Having diversity of thought at the table, having the most talented team that continues to challenge ourselves and innovate, and having our differences keeps things lively!

If you are expanding overseas, does being a woman affect growth?
No. It's about how you lead, not what gender you are as a leader. We have a great, diverse team that builds the brand and an incredible team at Focus Brands International that builds our business overseas. International expansion is rooted in being able to build strong, trusting relationships as much as it is in having thoughtful strategy. Being a woman makes you no more or less likely to succeed in that expansion.

Published: March 20th, 2014

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