Former Hooters Girl Rides a Gooey Pastry to Cinnabon CEO Spot

Quick, what's the career future of a Hooters Girl? That's right, a waitress who has to put on something skimpy and play up sex appeal to make money at a restaurant chain obsessed with women's breasts? For some, it could be a claim of being ousted after brain surgery.

But for Kat Cole, who rose from waitress to vice-president at the organization, it was a move to become CEO of Cinnabon where she is helping to turn the company into a billion dollar business, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek report. And all that is on the strength of a gooey pastry unabashedly dripping with cinnamon, sugar, and fat to the tune of 880 calories for the Cinnabon Classic, according to the company.

When asked on HuffPost Live last month how she made the leap, Cole admitted that luck played a part, but also said, "I worked my buns off."

Clearly her career has formed a taste for anatomically appropriate word play. But it takes effort to become the CEO of a significant food brand by the time you're 32, which was her age three years ago when she was hired.

Cole's career really started at 16, when she first worked as a Hooters hostess and, when finally 18, a waitress during high school, as Businessweek reports. Her parents had divorced and her mother was sometimes forced to feed Cole and her two siblings on $10 a week worth of canned food and frozen lasagna. Clearly there wasn't a lot of free cash to go around.

Cole was eventually studying engineering in college when, at 19, Hooters asked her to help open a restaurant in Australia. Success there turned into more international and domestic assignments in opening new locations. Eventually the degree went out the door as she focused full-time on a new corporate career in the company. That meant a big drop from the $45,000 a year she made as a waitress to an entry-level $22,000. But it got her foot in the door. Eventually she was a vice-president.

How do you eventually become an executive if you've never finished college? You find a way to get your MBA without an undergraduate degree. According to Entrepreneur, Cole chased down recommendation letters from ten CEOs, including Ted Turner, and got accepted to Georgia State's executive MBA program, which is one of the few that counts business experience for those who didn't get a bachelor's. As she told Forbes, she graduated in two years, getting her degree two months after she started at Cinnabon.

Cole helped take the division that originally started as a chain of mall-based bakeries into new ground, as she told Forbes in an interview. Cinnabon has partnerships with Pillsbury and Kellogg. You'll find its products in Costco, Wall-Mart, Target, Taco Bell, and Burger King.

What does Cole think of the Cinnabon eating experience? "It's almost pornographic," she told Businessweek. "It's just so over-the-top, it's a sensory experience." Hmm, maybe in some ways it's not that different from Hooters after all.

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