The president of a US$1 billion brand says working at Hooters taught her the importance of questioning a business' success

Kat ColeCindy Ord/Getty Images for CosmopolitanKat Cole, group president of Focus Brands.

Nearly 20 years ago, Kat Cole was working as a Hooters waitress to put herself through college.

Today, she’s the group president of Focus Brands, which operates eateries Cinnabon, Auntie Anne’s, and Moe’s Southwest Grill. Cinnabon alone is a $1 billion brand, reports Today.

Despite Hooters’ tacky and low-brow reputation, Cole never took her job lightly, she told Business Insider at Cosmopolitan and SoFi’s Fun Fearless Money event last month.

She took on responsibilities beyond her job description and was actively curious about the way the business operated, she said, which landed her a corporate position travelling the world to open franchises by age 20, and a vice president title at 26. In 2011, she left Hooters to become president of Cinnabon.

Through her years ascending the corporate ladder, the now 38-year-old said there’s an invaluable lesson she drew from her time at Hooters that’s informed the way she runs Focus Brands today.

“I have learned it’s just as important, if not more so, to question success more than failure,” she said. “So many people have a win, and they’re like, ‘Everything I did was clearly a contributor to the win.’ But not necessarily.”

Cole recalled an experience working at Hooters in her home state of Florida:

“I remember working for a manager at a Hooter’s restaurant in Jacksonville. The manager was a complete jerk, he was a terrible manager. But the restaurant sales were increasing because there were all these buildings being built around the corner, so you had a constant inflow of construction workers and corporate people from these businesses. The minute that construction stopped, the sales plummeted 20%. And it was a different manager in at that time, and they got crucified.

“Be careful what you reward and be careful what you crucify. And question success more than failure. Maybe a restaurant is successful because of the manager, but maybe not. Maybe it’s successful because of the location, time of year, a particular set of employees.”

Cole said it’s often easy to identify the reasons that something failed, but people tend not to think earnestly about why something succeeded — they just accept the win and move on to the next task, she said.

“Rarely do people question success, and then that leads to mass failures, because they’re duplicating behaviours with bigger and bigger bets,” she said.

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