Kat Cole, CEO of Cinnabon
"I've learned to question success a lot more than failure... because I'm thinking: 'There's got to be something I don't know. There's always something.' This approach means that people don't feel beat up for failing, but they should feel very concerned if they don't understand why they're successful."
In her early twenties, Kat began working to help support her family, initially as a hostess at Hooters. By the age of 26, she worked her way up to Vice President of the company, which she grew from 100 locations with $300 million in revenue to 500 locations with over $1 billion in revenue. Despite having had to drop out of undergrad to focus on working, she was admitted to and successfully earned an MBA the same year she began at Cinnabon.
"My mom left our father when I was 9. I have two younger sisters, so from a very young age I had a leadership role at home. My mom would leave a list, and when the girls would get a little bit out of line, I would be the father figure, and when we were having fun, I would be the sister. Then, as I moved through school, I was always in leadership roles, like class president."
"[My mother] graduated high school and was a secretary for most of the time we were growing up. When she divorced our father, she had to pick up other jobs. For three years, she fed us on a food budget of, at the time, $10 a week. We didn’t grow up thinking, 'Oh my gosh, we’re poor,' because we had a house. So we always felt that we were pretty lucky. And her mantra for us was: 'I want you to be able to take care of yourself. You need to be able to take care of yourself.' It was all about being independent."
"As I started working and moving up quickly, my mom started saying, 'Don’t ever forget where you came from, but don’t you dare let it define you.' Even today, she writes that on my birthday card. For me, the personal message is about staying grounded and never turning your back on people. But there’s a business message for me, too, around innovation and evolution: Don’t forget where you came from, but don’t be stuck there. I’ll use those words sometimes when I’m talking to franchise groups, investors and employees."
NYTimes, Photograph via lennyletter