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Episode 14

Michael Coles

Co-Founder – The Great American Cookie Company

Michael J. Coles is a co-founder of the Great American Cookie Company and former CEO of Caribou Coffee. 

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 a joint investment of only $8,000. 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. As he 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 bicycling records. 

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. 

Michael went on to join others in founding Charter Bank & Trust and served as its chairman, taking the bank public and selling the publicly traded company to Synovus Bank.  Michael is also the former chairman of Brand Holding Company and chairman of Brand Bank. 

Michael was 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-ever tax incentive of its kind in Georgia. That bill allowed the film industry to begin a rebirth, going from $170 million in 1999 to over $1.5 billion in economic impact by 2003. Today, Georgia’s film industry generates over $12 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. 

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. 

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

During this episode, Michael shares many entrepreneurial tips, including, you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, and surround yourself with good people and you’ll be surprised at how good they will make you look.

Learn more about Michael:

Website: / Kennesaw State University

LinkedIn: Michael Coles

Book: Amazon / Barnes & Noble







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