Kat Cole is someone you want on your team. She is a doer. A go-getter.

The American businesswoman also is living proof of how to get ahead in the fast-paced food industry by having an insatiable appetite for learning and putting customer service first.

With her accelerated rise up the corporate ladder to being in charge of one of the best-known food brands in the world, Cole is the epitome of hard work and determination in achieving business success. At 41, the present chief operating officer and president of FOCUS Brands, North America, and former president of its highly successful subsidiary Cinnabon, is one of the most highly sought-after business speakers today.

Her improbable rise from working as a hostess to running a billion-dollar brand in under two decades is an exemplary story of grit, service and hustle.

At the age of 17, Cole was working as a hostess at a Hooters restaurant when she moved her way up to server and bartender, then began traveling globally to help open new franchises and learn every job in the restaurant business. She then joined Hooters’ corporate office at 20, advancing to various management and leadership positions. By the time she was 26, Cole earned the role of vice president of a multinational brand, doing $800 million in revenue at Hooters and was a member of the company’s executive team that built the franchise to 400 units in 28 countries. In her final two years as an executive at Hooters, she earned her Master of Business Administration degree from Georgia State University while serving as chair of the board of the Georgia Restaurant Association and Board member of the Women’s Foodservice Forum.

She was soon recruited by FOCUS Brands and Cinnabon to serve as chief operating officer and was promoted to president of the company within a mere three months.

Under her leadership, Cinnabon’s multichannel brand team saw record sales growth — breaking the $1 billion mark — brand expansion and franchise evolution, in just four years. Today, Cole serves as chief operating officer and president, North America, of FOCUS Brands, Cinnabon’s parent company, where she is responsible for building revenues and profits for seven franchise food brands in 60 countries through global licensing, manufacturing and e-commerce. In addition to Cinnabon, FOCUS Brands’ multichannel division helps grow Auntie Anne’s, Carvel, Jamba Juice, Moe’s Southwest Grill, McAlister’s Deli and Schlotzsky’s.

Among her other credits, Cole serves on the United Nations Foundation Global Entrepreneurs Council, is a Young Global Leader (YGL) of the World EconomicForum and also a co-founder of Changers of Commerce, a movement and group of leaders that identify “mixing money and meaning, and making as much of a difference in the world as they make a profit.” She also has been featured on CBS’s “Undercover Boss,” and in publications ranging from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, Inc., and Fortune to Cosmopolitan, Real Simple and Glamour. Cole has received many accolades, including being named one of Fortune’s “40 Under 40” and to CNBC’s “Next 25 List of Rebels, Leaders and Innovators.”

Cole’s personal and professional journey is indeed inspiring and certainly transcends industries and job titles, with her often sharing the expression, “ ‘don’t forget where you came from, but don’t dare let it solely define you.’ ”

Read more in October’s 2019 Annual Report.