Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kudos to the natty queen Cole

One of the best presentations I saw in 30 year of attending industry conferences was an amusing account by Claire Babrowski of her climb through the ranks of McDonalds. She did a wonderful job at the podium of conveying both the warmth and the challenges of that career path, which brought her just one level away from the presidency of McDonald’s USA.

If I had a recording of her speech to the Women’s Foodservice Forum, I’d run off a copy and overnight it to Kat Cole, who yesterday was named chief operating officer of the Cinnabon bakery chain. If you don’t know who Kat is, you haven’t seen any of the restaurant trade magazines in the last five years, or attended any of the major industry conferences, or served on an association board. She even appeared on the reality TV show, Undercover Boss.

As head of Hooter’s human resources efforts, she achieved a notoriety that’s exceptionally rare for someone on the personnel side of the business. With the exception of Roz Mallet, a former Caribou Coffee CEO who now heads a franchise operating company, there’s no else I can recall who moved from the HR department to the big C-suite offices.

Cole is no doubt rounding out her executive experience, a bit of prep work that will ease her ascent one day to a chain president or CEO post.

Hence my regret that I don’t have a copy of Babrowki’s speech to share. The longtime McDonald’s official recounted such experiences as worrying she’d trigger a worldwide sesame-seed shortage by minutely altering the specs for McDonald’s hamburger buns. Or the over-her-head sensation of hearing Carolina franchisees literally cry because the first Iraqi war had yanked their customer base overseas, leaving the mom-and-pop operators fretful about surviving.

Best of all was her thumbnail recount of gaining operational experience: No more manicured nails, no more choosing footwear for style rather than comfort, and no more days without aching legs and feet.

It was a striking travelogue of the journey Cole is about to take. Granted, 800-store Cinnabon isn’t McDonald’s. No doubt like Babrowski, she’s destined for great things. I for one wish her well.

I’m also eager to cross paths with her soon because she’s in a position now to answer the question many of us have harbored about her career to date. Cole is a zealous defender of the employment opportunities afforded by Hooters, a chain known for its wings and waitresses in revealing T-shirts. Indeed, she started as what the chain calls a Hooters Girl.

She’s also extremely active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum, a group devoted to fostering executive opportunities for women. Some of us have had trouble reconciling that extra-career activity with what Cole did for the bulk of her week.

Now of course, it’s academic. She’s on her way to becoming even more of a star in the business.

Babrowski eventually left the industry because she didn’t get the top domestic job at McDonald’s. We’re fortunate that Cole is still in the business, making her mark.


Leslie said...

Peter, you are right that Kat is a special member of the restaurant community. She has inspired us not only with her encouragement, but also with the example she sets. She gives her time tirelessly and is a thoughtful, energetic leader. Yes, she has worked her way up from the ranks of server and I know she continue to do great things. May you bring us more of her story, Peter. And Congrats to you, Kat.

Kat Cole said...

Peter, I'm not sure what to say, but thank you for your kind words. I still have so much to learn and do and I can only hope to make the impact that those you referenced have made.

PS- sorry for the late reply - I've been in bakeries all day; what a great surprise and an honor it is to open my computer and see this post. It means a lot coming from you.