Kat Cole

Group President, Focus Brands

A focus on future growth, grounded in the lessons learned in the past, keeps this global food company president always moving forward. See how she stays focused on innovation and pushing ahead.

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The Label Breaker

When it comes to members of her team, Kat Cole values creativity and ingenuity as much as an advanced degree (though she has an MBA from Georgia State University). That’s why the Group President of FOCUS Brands, which includes Cinnabon, Schlotzky’s, and Moe’s restaurants, among others, has a passion for championing those who take the less traditional route to leadership.

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“One of the things that’s most interesting for me as a leader of a large global brand is having the chance to work with emerging leaders coming out of college, or even those who don’t take the higher education route, who choose to go straight into the workforce,” Cole says. “And of course I very much enjoy mentoring young emerging talent, but what I really like is when young emerging talent comes and mentors me and my peers and my organization.“

Cole is currently helping lead efforts on two fronts in Atlanta to put new talent in the right careers, even if they aren’t “typical” candidates. 

“I think my love of emerging talent comes from being a young person in the workplace myself. I remember the leaders who took the time to ask me my opinion and treat me like I mattered – and I remember the people who didn’t,” she says. “It’s what connects me to groups like the Hope B- Business Compact or General Assembly.”

The Hope B- Business Compact works to offer Fortune 1000 internships to students from low-wealth urban, rural, and underserved communities. General Assembly is a nontraditional education forum focused on technology, business, and design.

After taking a less traditional route to leadership – turning her high school job as a restaurant hostess into a VP position by working her way up through the ranks over more than a decade – Cole has turned her focus to supporting those seeking opportunities, wherever they come from.

“[I] believe firmly that you should never forget where you came from because it’s what makes you awesome,” she says. “But you should not let where you come from solely define you. That’s what drives innovation strategies – to evolve from where you started, but not to forget it.” 

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