When Kat Cole traveled to Egypt with the international director of Cinnabon last year and the call-to-prayer came on over the speakers, she stopped and said, “That is so beautiful.” The Egyptian franchisee she was with turned around, looked at her and said, “What?” Cole repeated herself. Stunned, the franchisee continued: “I have never, ever heard an American say that in my 40 years of doing business with Americans.” Cole was shocked. No matter what your beliefs about religion, the chant, says Cole, is melodic and gorgeous. Cole’s relationship with the Egyptian businessman instantly changed. “All of a sudden, it was like I was family.”
That moment encapsulates a lot about what is at the center of Cole’s belief system about people and about how to do business: Focus on the positive, even across a wide experiential or cultural background. By focusing on the good in a situation or in a person, Cole says she sees possibility where 99 percent of human beings do not. That’s true in Africa, where she spends time doing humanitarian work. And it’s also her philosophy in the boardroom, where she leads expansion projects in countries that find it taboo for women to be doing business at all, and where she – a former Hooters girl – often manages men much older than she is.
“That’s always been my thing: I can see the possible in people and situations where other people can’t. And because I can see it, I can help other people see it,” says Cole.