Co-founder of Great American Cookie Company and former CEO of Caribou Coffee, Michael J. Coles is a business expert, serial entrepreneur, education advocate, and well-known public speaker. From starting three businesses, setting transcontinental world cycling records, making two bids for U.S. Congress, and writing legislation for Georgia film tax credit that changed an industry, Coles’ story is one of true grit and perseverance. In his recently-released memoir, Time to Get Tough: How Cookies, Coffee, and a Crash Led to Success in Business in Life, Coles’ reflects on his notable life and shares a wealth of knowledge and tips that he has gathered over the years as a business leader. In the memoir, he recounts the failures and successes that led him from poverty and a near-fatal motorcycle accident to founding a $100-million company and becoming the namesake of the business school at Georgia’s third largest university—despite never having attended college himself.
After almost two decades in the clothing business, he co-founded Great American Cookies in Atlanta in 1977 and grew it into the largest cookie store franchise in the United States.
Coles’ story of personal perseverance is as impressive as his business acumen. Following a near-fatal motorcycle accident six weeks after founding the cookie company, he recovered through a self-designed rehabilitation program and went on to set world records in three coast-to-coast bicycle races. Coles’ commitment to community service led him to run for the House of Representatives against Newt Gingrich in 1996 and for the U.S. Senate against Paul Coverdell in 1998, the same year he sold Great American Cookies. For the next four years he chaired the Georgia Film Commission and served on the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents, the Kennesaw State University Foundation board, and the Walker School board.
In 2003 he took the helm at Caribou Coffee, where he more than doubled the size of the company, opened a commercial sales division and an international market, and took the company public on Nasdaq under the symbol CBOU in 2005. Today, he serves as chairman of Brand Holding Company and BrandBank and actively lectures about business, giving more than seventy-five talks a year at universities and corporate events nationwide.