Coles has been an entrepreneur all of his life and put those skills to the test in 1977 when he co-founded the nationally successful Great American Cookie Company with an initial investment of only $8,000. When Coles sold the company in 1998, it had hundreds of stores nationwide with sales over $100 million.
Michael's belief that there are no limits that cannot be overcome was severely tested. Six weeks following the opening of his first cookie store, a near-fatal motorcycle accident left him disabled and his doctors told him he would never walk again unaided. With the help of his family and friends, Michael did overcome his disability. By 1984 he had set two World Transcontinental Bicycling records – biking from Savannah to San Diego in just 11 days, 8 hours and 15 minutes, to break his first record set in 1982. And in 1989, Michael joined a four-man team to win the Race Across America, biking 3,000 miles from Los Angeles to New York in five days, one hour and eight minutes. Both records still stand today.
In addition to his business and athletic pursuits, Michael has committed himself to improving opportunities for others in his community to achieve their dreams. In 1986, 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.
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, has 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 an attempt to develop future franchise executives, Michael was part of the leadership team that developed the curriculum to achieve this goal. Louisiana State University was the first university to adopt the curriculum for individuals to become Certified Franchising Executives (CFE). In 1991, LSU awarded Michael the title of Certified Franchising Executive (CFE) for all of his efforts and expertise.
In 1999, Michael also received the Beta Gamma Sigma Medallion for Entrepreneurship, which is a prestigious national award given to outstanding individuals who combine innovative business achievement with service to humanity. With his wife, Donna, Michael has contributed much of his time and resources to education, the arts, the environment and philanthropic organizations. In 1995, Michael and Donna were honored as the Georgia Philanthropists of the Year by the Georgia Chapter of the National Society of Fund Raising Executives.
In an effort to continue his commitment to community service, Michael ran for public office. In 1996 he was the Democratic nominee for Congress challenging then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and in 1998, Michael won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, challenging then incumbent Senator Paul Coverdell.
In 1999, he received the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree from Kennesaw State University.
In 1987, Michael was one of the founders of Charter Bank and Trust where he served as Board Chairman. He serves on other corporate and many non-profit boards.
Michael was appointed and served as Chairman of the Georgia Film and Video Advisory Council from 1999 until 2003. The work of the commission was to bring film and video to Georgia to help strengthen its economic development.
On January 9, 2001, Michael was appointed by Governor Roy Barnes to the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.
He lives in Atlanta with his wife Donna and they are the parents of three adult children, Lorin , Jody and Taryn.