The Best Business Leader in America? | Kat Cole on Pomp Podcast with Anthony Pompliano

Key Takeaways

  • If something is consistently going wrong and you’re the common denominator, you need to change your actions
    • “It’s not them, it’s me and what do I do about that and how do I figure it out?” – Kat Cole
  • “Anytime you’re criticized, assume first that it’s correct”Kat Cole
    • Then look at what parts of it are true and which aren’t
  • Seek experience, not money
  • College graduates usually take one of three paths:
    • Join an existing large corporation
    • Launch your own company
    • Join a startup 
      • Pomp recommends doing the last one. You’ll learn a lot and if the startup becomes successful, it will be a huge boost on your resume.
  • If you want to know where the action is, get close to the transaction
    • “The people who are closest to the action know what the right thing to do is long before the leader does” – Kat Cole
  • Questions to ask frontline workers and managers:
    • When do we say ‘no’?
      • If customer or employees are asking for something consistently over time, then there’s an employee or market opportunity there
    • What do we throw away?
      • This will help you identify what resources are being wasted
    • If you were me, what’s one thing you would do to improve the business?

Intro

  • Kat Cole (@KatColeATL) is the President and Chief Operating Officer of Focus Brands, a company doing nearly $5 billion in annual revenue. She is the former president of Focus Brands’ subsidiary Cinnabon. Prior to that, she was an Executive Vice President of Hooters.
  • Host: Anthony “Pomp” Pompliano (@APompliano)

Books Mentioned

  • Kat says Give and Take by Adam Grant is the most important book she’s ever read
    • The book explains a lot of what Kat believes in and codifies it

About Kat Cole

  • Kat is currently the President and COO of Focus Brands
    • Focus owns Schlotzsky’s, Carvel, Cinnabon, Moe’s Southwest Grill, McAlister’s Deli, Auntie Anne’s and Jamba brands
  • She grew up in Jacksonville, Florida
    • Kat’s father was an alcoholic so her mother took her and her siblings and moved away. Kat’s mother worked three jobs to support the family.
  • At 17, Kat went to work for Hooters as a hostess
    • At 19, she was opening Hooters franchises around the world
      • She helped train employees, managers, and get the business off the ground
        • At 20, Hooters offered Kat a corporate position. She dropped out of college and took it.
          • “By the time I was 26, I was vice-president of the company” – Kat Cole

Leadership Lessons From Hooters

  • If you’re only humble and curious, you’re a student and no one will follow you
  • If you’re only courageous and confident, you’re a bull in a china shop and people will perceive you as an asshole
    • Be humble and curious enough to ask questions, but also be courageous and confident that you can figure things out
  • If something is consistently going wrong and you’re the common denominator, you need to change your actions
    • “It’s not them, it’s me and what do I do about that and how do I figure it out?” – Kat Cole
  • “Anytime you’re criticized, assume first that it’s correct”Kat Cole
    • Then look at what parts of it are true and which aren’t
  • You have to be able to admit you were wrong and explain what and why tasks are important  

Climbing The Career Ladder Quickly

  • College graduates usually take one of three paths:
    • Join an existing large corporation
    • Launch your own company
    • Join a startup 
      • Pomp recommends doing the last one. You’ll learn a lot and if the startup becomes successful, it will be a huge boost on your resume.
        • This is essentially what Kat did. She went from waitress to vice-president at Hooters in a short period of time.
  • When you get promoted, don’t let being part of the crew hold you back, you have to step up and now lead your peers 
  • “Respect the experience, culture, and ways of other countries and other people” – Kat Cole
  • Seek experience, not money:
    • “Anything that tried to get me to trade off learning for cash was not an acceptable trade-off then and it’s not an acceptable trade-off for me now” Kat 

Lessons From Cinnabon

  • Kat eventually went back to school to get her MBA (certain programs allow you to enroll without a bachelor’s degree) and later became the President of Cinnabon
  • Once at Cinnabon, she worked in the restaurants and spent time with the franchisees to get a better grasp of the business
  • If you want to know where the action is, get close to the transaction
    • “The people who are closest to the action know what the right thing to do is long before the leader does” – Kat Cole
      • However, first-line employees often lack the language to articulate the power and the authority to do something about it
        • It’s the leader’s job explore the action, ask a lot of questions, find patterns, and make improvements
  • You have to create a layer of trust with both management and employees. Don’t freak out if you discover something wrong or people will try to hide problems from you
    • “I need to prime those layers of leadership so that I have optimal access” – Kat Cole
  • When you’re going to work on the frontlines, expect to put in work
    • Kat would put her hair up, put on gloves, and come ready to work in the restaurants
  • Questions to ask frontline workers and managers:
    • When do we say ‘no’?
      • If customer or employees are asking for something consistently over time, then there’s an employee or market opportunity there
    • What do we throw away?
      • This will help you identify what resources are being wasted
    • If you were me, what’s one thing you would do to improve the business?
  • How did Kat improve Cinnabon?
    • She diagnosed and addressed the deficit of belief at the company
    • She focused on the fundamental business model
    • She launched a multi-channel business 

Adjusting To A New World

  • How does Cinnabon compete in a world that is shifting to healthier foods?
    • People still likes sweets and enjoy the occasional indulgence
      • “It’s a moment and an escape, it’s not breakfast, lunch or dinner” – Kat Cole
    • Cinnabon bakes their food everyday at their store so that it’s fresh
    • They are experimenting with gluten-free and sugar-free products
  • Most of Cinnabon stores are in malls and airports, how are they adapting to the lack of foot traffic?
    • Only one-third of Cinnabon’s are in malls
    • Cinnabon is opening up more drive-thru and delivery options
    • They started looking a food kits and other products outside of the mall that could help drive revenue
    • They are also experimenting with food trucks and pop-up stores
    • Cinnabon has been opening more street side stores instead of more mall locations
    • They have been investing in their own apps and loyalty programs to deepen their relationship with customers

Additional Notes

  • How do you run a large business and still maintain a good relationship with your partner?
    • Do a monthly check-in and talk about any problems that either of you are facing
  • Constantly learn not just from your mentors but from people younger than you and outside sources like the internet
  • Prioritize the most important tasks 
    • “Do the most uncomfortable, least pleasing things first” – Kat Cole
  • Procrastination is often a sign of stress and that you need to say no to more things
  • The hotshot rule: Imagine another person was in your position, how would they handle the role and tasks at hand?
  • Develop a process of asking, answering, and acting
  • Kat says Give and Take by Adam Grant is the most important book she’s ever read
    • The book explains a lot of what Kat believes in and codifies it
      • The takeaway: Healthy givers always win in the long-run
  • Kat believes in aliens
Pomp Podcast : , , ,
Notes By Alex Wiec

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