Following the sale of her business, Southampton, New York-based Tate's Bake Shop, Kathleen King retired in 2018. It was a move she'd been planning since day one.
There are a lot of companies that make cookies. So how did Tate's get so big?
I had another bakery business for 20 years, called Kathleen's Bake Shop. I made a bad business deal and ended up losing everything. So when I opened Tate's, I said, "OK. I have to have a strategy; I have to plan to grow this business so I can sell it when I'm 55 and retire."
Besides having a clear timeline, what did you do differently the second time around?
When I opened Kathleen's, I was 21 years old. It was my baby, so I worked 24 hours a day and thought nobody could do anything as well as I could. The second time around, I vowed that I wasn't going to be emotional; I told myself I was not going to give blood for Tate's. People don't understand that you can have a business and love it and be passionate, but you don't have to be so attached. That lack of attachment liberated me to function more clearly and execute more quickly.
When did you start thinking about selling the company?
The day I opened. Because I'd made such a terrible mistake the first time around, I said, "I'm going to do everything right this time." I hired TM Capital, an investment bank in New York City. They told us how to put together the book to send out to investors to get interest. There ended up being a bidding war.
Despite all that planning, did you have any reservations about selling and stepping away from the business?
No. I had a business manager who'd often say, "Don't sell. We'll grow it even bigger." But there's nothing more valuable than time. If something were to go seriously wrong when I was running the business, it would be on me. If the building burned down, it would be on me. When I went to sleep at night, I had 200 people I was responsible for.
Now that you're retired, do you still bake?
I do. But only when I really need something, because if I have cookies in the house, I'll eat them. After all these years, they're still my weakness.