Take Her Advice: Kat Cole Went from Hooters Waitress to Global CEO

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By Kat Cole

The term ‘networking’ used to make me itch. The old school picture in my brain was of guys in suits at a cocktail party, handing out business cards and being super aggressive and salesy. As time went on, I realized that when done right, ‘networking’ was just another word for building relationships that could lead to helping one another. That was something I could do and was genuinely interested in. 

How to do that well in a business setting was new to me. I went to formal networking events occasionally and joined some business communities online. I learned to be succinct in describing my skills and goals in order to leverage unexpected opportunities that came up in conversation. What I also learned was to do what came naturally to me – to give, help, and teach. Instead of going to networking functions where I felt the expectation to collect business cards, I learned to find opportunities where I could be true to my natural style and show up as my best self. 

Here are a few ways I learned to break down networking and business relationship-building into different types of giving

Give mentoring moments to others

Grab coffee with someone you can offer helpful perspective to. There’s always someone who can benefit from your experiences and learning, and there are always people from whom you can benefit. Make the time. 

Bring people together

Host a fundraiser for a cause or candidate you care about. Bring friends who don’t know each other together for coffee. Make specific introductions to help those who want it. Sometimes the best way to build great relationships in business is to first help others do just that.

Volunteer outside of work for causes you believe in

You will meet like-minded people who cross various industries and sectors. When you are intrinsically motivated, you shine. In these moments of working for a deeper purpose and shared cause, people see a great side of you. I met lifelong friends who would grow to be business partners and advocates for me through my humanitarian work. Giving and contributing together builds real bonds.

Share knowledge, skills and expertise

Sign up for a topic-specific roundtable or meeting in a local business organization, your industry’s professional organizations, or community of interest. I was very active in an organization dedicated to advancing women in business early in my career. I first offered to help others with public speaking and to teach classes on marketing and training. Eventually, I ended up being on the board of directors and chair of the board. The experiences and relationships built there have been formative in my career and businesses. 

When I look back on times I was recruited for jobs, when I was promoted, or when I was called on as an advisor, I can trace the recommendation or referral back to relationships that have shown up in the most unexpected ways over time. Giving, being interested in others, and building things together that matter is the best way to ‘network’ that I have found. Happy giving!

Kat Cole is the current COO and President, North America at FOCUS Brands. She also sits on the United Nations Global Entrepreneurs Council and is a Young Global Leader for the World Economic Forum.