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Michael J. Coles

Atlanta business executive, serial entrepreneur, education advocate, philanthropist, respected public speaker, and the namesake of the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University.

January 27, 2020 |  12:15-1:30PM

Loudermilk Conference Center



Michael J. Coles

Atlanta business executive, serial entrepreneur, education advocate, philanthropist, respected public speaker, and the namesake of the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University.

Deeply involved in the community, Michael Coles is a transformational leader, accomplished entrepreneur, education advocate and motivational speaker. He is living proof that there are no limits to what we as individuals can accomplish. He brings his story to life in his presentation which is entitled Taking on Goliath.

After a successful 19-year career in the clothing business, Michael tested his entrepreneurial skills in 1977 when he co-founded Great American Cookie Company with an investment of only $8000. Shortly after starting the company, Michael was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle accident and was told by doctors he would never walk again unaided. As Michael recovered through a self-designed rehabilitation program, he took the company from its first store in Perimeter Mall in Atlanta to hundreds of stores nationwide and, at the same time, set three coast-to-coast cycling records. When Michael started the Great American Cookie Company, there were three major cookie companies in business; one had almost 100 stores and the other two had fifty each. When he sold the company in 1998 with sales over $100 million, the Great American Cookie Company was the largest franchisor of cookie stores and the other three companies no longer existed.

Michael’s commitment to community service led him to run for public office in 1996 as the Democratic nominee for the House of Representatives in the Sixth District of Georgia and in 1998 he won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, challenging Senator Paul Coverdell. 

In 2003, Michael accepted the corporate reins of Caribou Coffee Company as Chairman, CEO and President. Over the next five years, Michael more than doubled the size of the company, extending the brand reach domestically and abroad. In September 2005, he successfully took the company public on NASDAQ under the symbol CBOU.

Coles was one of the founders of Charter Bank & Trust and served as its Chairman, taking the bank public and selling the publicly traded company to Synovus Bank. 

Appointed by Governor Roy Barnes in 1999 to Chair the Georgia Film, Video and Music Advisory Board, during his four years as Chairman, Michael and his board successfully passed HB610 which was the first tax incentive ever given to the industry in the state of Georgia. That bill allowed the industry to begin a rebirth going from $170 million 1999 to over $1.5 billion in economic impact by 2003. Today, the industry’s economic impact to the state is over 12 billion.

Michael is also the former Chairman of Brand Holding Company and Chairman of Brand Bank.

Having contributed much of their time and resources to education, the arts, environment and philanthropic organizations, Michael and his wife, Donna were honored as the Georgia Philanthropists of the Year in 1995. 

Michael was appointed by Governor Roy Barnes in 2001 to serve on the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.

In recognition of Michael’s success, leadership and benevolence, Kennesaw State University, under the authority granted by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, declared that the institution’s School of Business be named and known in perpetuity as the Michael J. Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University. In 1999 Michael received the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree from Kennesaw State University.  

As Entrepreneur in Residence for the Coles MBA 2013 Spring Semester, Michael led a class entitled “Concept to Counter,” allowing students to grasp the concept of taking their creative thoughts and ideas to the marketplace.

Michael received the National Women’s Political Caucus Good Guy of the Year Award for his work on behalf of women’s issues. He joined the ranks of past recipients, including Ed Asner, Alan Alda and former Vice President and U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Walter Mondale.

On October 17, 2018 Michael officially launched his new book titled “Time to Get Tough: How Cookies Coffee and a Crash Led To Success in Business and Life.” More information at: 

Michael continues to serve on numerous non-profit boards. He is a member of The Jackson Hole Rotary Club.

Michael lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with his wife Donna and they are the parents of three adult children and seven grandchildren.

Event Location

Loudermilk Conference Center

40 Courtland Street

Atlanta, GA 30303

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