When Katrina was nine years old, her mother made the decision to get a divorce.. She worked a variety of jobs, sometimes several at a time, in an effort to improve her life and the lives of her three daughters. At one point, she was keeping her children fed on ten dollars a week. This left Katrina at home with her two younger sisters. Instead of doing what most kids do at age ten or eleven, she was managing the house, cooking meals, and caring for her siblings.
Katrina’s first job was selling clothes and body products at the local mall. While at work one day, she met a young woman who worked at the local restaurant chain Hooters. Katrina was only fifteen, too young to wait tables, but she applied and joined the restaurant staff as a hostess. By eighteen, she was a server, also known as a Hooters Girl.
Being forced to take on a level of maturity at an early age had made Katrina highly adaptable. She always approached new tasks with confidence, even if she didn’t necessarily know what she was doing. When one of the cooks at the restaurant quit, she learned how to work in the kitchen. When the manager quit, she learned how to run a shift. She quickly became one of the establishment’s go-to people, even while wearing the familiar orange shorts of a table server.
After high school, Katrina started college with plans to get an engineering degree and continue to law school. However, at nineteen, she got an unexpected opportunity: a representative from the head office of Hooters of America called her restaurant to recruit one employee for a franchise expansion team to open the first Hooters in Australia. The manager recommended Katrina.
The only problem was, Katrina didn’t have a passport. In fact, she had never even been on a plane. She asked for a day to think about the offer. After some quick research, she learned that she could get a passport in one day in Miami. Without hesitation, she flew to Miami, waited in line for a passport, and flew back home that night. Then she called the Hooters corporate office and said yes. No one knew she didn’t have a passport when they first extended the invitation, and a few days later, she was on her way to Australia.
More trips came up, as Katrina was tapped to open the first Hooters in Mexico City, then Buenos Aires, then the first French-speaking Hooters in Quebec. It was new and thrilling, and she couldn’t get enough of the international business experience. But her classwork was suffering. It became obvious that she either needed to stay in school and stop traveling the world… or keep it up and leave school behind. At the age of twenty, Katrina left college, taking a position with the Hooters corporate office to supervise employee training for the entire company.
Katrina continued to travel the world and open new restaurants, learning about the business and dealing with challenges. In Nassau, Bahamas, she arrived to find that the roof wasn’t complete, there were no stairs, and the building was in disarray. While it would have been easy to simply tell the franchise owners that they’d failed, Katrina took action instead. She organized a team to put together equipment and pour the table foundations. Things took longer, but Katrina took pride in being thrown into the impossible situation and figuring it out, and in rallying people around a goal. The Nassau franchise opened, against all odds.
While rising through the ranks at Hooters Katrina volunteered frequently, donating time to the Women’s Foodservice Forum and the National Restaurant Association, among others. Later, when she decided that her ability to advance as an executive required her to get an MBA, her extensive packet of recommendation letters would include one from CNN founder Ted Turner, whom she had met and worked with while volunteering. She was accepted into an MBA program, despite never getting an undergraduate degree!
From her humble beginning as a Hooters Girl, Katrina “Kat” Cole worked her way to become vice president of the billion-dollar company during her decade there. Most recently, Kat left Hooters to become the President of Cinnabon at the age of 32. What’s the advice of the global executive who started off her corporate career serving beer and wings? “Think big, pursue every opportunity, and be prepared to work your buns off.”
Until next week...
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