“As an education advocate, I clearly see the need for more affordable college options for students. Affordable College is arriving at the right time to support the millions of prospective students across the country that aspire to earn a recognized bachelor’s degree.”
— Michael J. Coles, Former Member of The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia and Co-Founder of The Great American Cookie Company
Michael J. Coles
Michael Coles, an accomplished entrepreneur, businessman, community leader, education advocate and motivational speaker, 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*.
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, he was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle accident and was told by doctors he would never walk again unaided. Michael recovered and thru a self-designed rehabilitation cycling program not only walks again, but also holds two World Transcontinental Bicycling records; Savannah to San Diego and Los Angeles to New York. At the same time he set these two records, the Company grew from its first store in Perimeter Mall. When Michael started the 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 they had hundreds of stores nationwide with sales over $100 million. 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 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 internationally. 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 to Chair the Georgia Film, Video and Music Advisory Board, during his four years as Chairman, Michael took it from $170 million to just over a $1 billion in economic impact.
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.
Michael now serves as the Executive Chairman and President of Global Onboard Partners, which specializes in advertising on commercial airlines. In addition, he serves on the board of Brand Group Holdings, which operates banks under the name of Brand Bank.
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 Human 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 Bill Cosby, Ed Asner, Alan Alda and former Vice President and U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Walter Mondale.
Michael continues to serve on numerous non-profit boards. Michael lives in Atlanta with his wife Donna and they are the parents of three adult children and six grandchildren.