I’m going to start with the Sunday keynote, Kat Cole. I’m a fan boy of this amazing business leader who I’ve known for a few years and have seen her speak nine previous times.
Cole is the group president of FOCUS Brands, the franchisor and operator of Cinnabon, Carvel, Auntie Anne’s pretzels, Schlotzsky’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill and other restaurants.
She is also the resilient child of a not very happy home and childhood.
She has been on Undercover Boss, a show I used to hate but now kind of enjoy since they made it more about the learning of the participants and less about the reality driven “gotcha” narrative of the first season.
She is someone who visited the U.S. Chamber of Commerce a few years ago, and told the leadership they had some stuff to learn about getting millennial business leaders interested in their organization.
When I first saw Kat speak, she was a working in the restaurant business at Hooters, and was telling her story of having moved up through the ranks as a hard worker who stayed close to process and people. She was also a college dropout who was asked by Hooters corporate at age 19 by corporate to travel to Australia and open the first Hooters store on that continent. She didn’t even have a passport. She said yes, and now travels the globe for business, fun and social good.
Over the next few years, the business stories she told on stage as she matured in her work and in her life. She took over Cinnabon and turned the brand around although not without some difficulty.
She traveled to Sudan with a group of mutual friends to learn more about how to help that country with infrastructure issues, and while there was responsible for being part of a group of people who literally saved a village citizen who had no access to clean water or healthcare by driving him to a larger city to gt the he needed.
She’s a heroic leader and a great example for other companies to aspire to as they hire new leaders.
Here are the notes that I took for myself during this – the 10th time I’ve heard her speak:
- Always stay close to the employees who work for you, and understand the processes. Chicken wings are cooked and ready to serve when they float in the fryer.
- If you want to win the war on talent, look in unexpected places. As Kat opined: “I’m a college dropout, a former employee of Hooters and the child of a broken home. I’m probably not getting past most of the HR screening systems at your company.
- If you want to get bigger, sometimes you have to think smaller. What she actuall said was that if you are trying to change your company or business or culture, you can’t look just the symptoms. Sometimes you to look at the underlying systems and make sure they are working.
- The people who do the work always know the answers to questions that business managers are trying to find the answers to. They lack the language and skills to bring them forward in the organization. Managers can achieve the greatest success by tapping into this resource and helping the workers bring the answers forward.
- Failure can be your greatest friend. In recounting a moment as a new CEO faced with a huge mistake and the loss of trust of her boss, Kat asked for 24 hours to find what happened and how to fix it. Given time, she was still paralyzed until she thought about and answered this question first posed by Rabbi Hillel the Elder:
Ultimately, she realized, “You, that’s who. You’re the freaking President.” and took difficult actions to fix the problem and regain the trust of her colleagues.
Kole enjoys great career success just having been named the new COO and President, North America at FOCUS Brands, an awesome personal life, including a new husband who she married at Burning Man, a child on the way and much more. What makes all this possible? She stays true to her roots, listening daily to a message from her mother: “Don’t forget where you came from but don’t you dare let it solely define you.”
Keep up the good work, @KatColeATL. I can’t wait until I get to hear the next evolution of the story