Honoring Michael Coles


KSU celebrates business leader's contributions

KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct 18, 2018) — Entrepreneur and philanthropist Michael Coles spent the day sharing his remarkable life story with students at an event Wednesday recognizing the 25th anniversary of Kennesaw State University naming the Michael J. Coles College of Business after him.

Coles, who is co-founder of the Great American Cookie Company and former CEO of Caribou Coffee, is Coles College’s current executive in residence. On Wednesday, the College held an Executive in Residence Day where Coles visited classrooms, met with University leadership, and spoke to students at a presentation in the Burruss Building honoring the 25th  anniversary of the College’s naming.

Michael J. Coles

“I see my name on everything the College does, and it’s overwhelming,” Coles said. “I can’t describe what it feels like having my name attached to something that is so much bigger than my personal life.”

Kathy Schwaig, dean of the Coles College of Business, was thrilled to provide Coles with a platform to interact with students.

“It’s always a pleasure when we can bring Michael to the College,” Schwaig said. “His story and his entrepreneurial spirit are truly inspiring.”

Wednesday’s event featured the grand opening of a new exhibit in the Burruss Building atrium highlighting Coles’ life, as well as the official launch of his new autobiography. Called Time to Get Tough: How Cookies, Coffee, and a Crash Led to Success in Business and Life, the book was co-written by Catherine Lewis, Kennesaw State’s assistant vice president of Museums, Archives and Rare Books, who also organized the exhibit.

“Georgia, the business world and KSU are different places because of what Michael Coles has done,” said Lewis, who worked with Coles on the book for two years. “His story is inspiring for anyone who is trying to overcome a challenge, and there is a lot of failure on the way to success. Reading Time to Get Tough and visiting the exhibit will give a new generation an appreciation for how hard work, determination and grit can change your life and that of your community.”

Michael J. Coles

All students in attendance received a free copy of the book along with a piece of cookie cake – a nod to the important role cookies played in Coles’ success.

Coles’ relationship to Kennesaw State began in 1990 when he joined the University’s board of trustees. He soon took an interest in the School of Business – becoming a frequent guest lecturer – and began working closely with then-Dean Tim Mescon.

“My involvement really started with Tim,” Coles said. “I was attracted to the business school because of Tim’s nickname for it: Entrepreneurial U. It sounds common today, but back then, it was a rarity for people in higher education to be talking about entrepreneurship.”

In recognition of Coles’ continued support of the University, Kennesaw State College renamed the business school in 1994 to the Michael J. Coles School of Business.

According to Mescon, aligning itself with Coles was vital to the business school attaining the prestige it currently enjoys.

“The naming allowed the Coles College to truly promote itself aggressively and in a most enthusiastic manner to the community at large,” he said. “Michael loved the entrepreneurial spirit of the College and knew that, with his investment, he could make a profound and indelible impact on the institution.”

Michael J. Coles

In the 25 years that followed, the Coles College of Business has experienced explosive growth, including:

  • In 1994, the same year as the name change, the Coles School of Business earned full accreditation from AACSB, the world’s largest accreditation association for business schools.
  • In 1996, Kennesaw State College became Kennesaw State University, with the business school becoming the Michael J. Coles College of Business.
  • In 1997, the U.S. Association of Small Business and Entrepreneurship awarded Coles College the Entrepreneurship Education National Model Program Award.
  • In 2001, the Coles College launched the Georgia WebMBA program along with four other universities. The first class featured 13 Kennesaw State students.
  • In 2006, the College established its $100,000 Student Managed Investment Fund, providing students the chance to manage a real investment portfolio.
  • In 2008, Coles College launched its first doctoral program, the Doctor of Business Administration.
  • In 2014, the College created the Hughes Leadership and Career Program, a series of classes designed to help better prepare students to achieve their professional goals.
  • In 2016, the College established the Bachelor of Business Administration in Entrepreneurship degree program.
  • In 2017, Tommy and Chantal Bagwell and the Koch Foundation donated $3.2 million to create the Bagwell Center for the Study of Markets and Economic Opportunity.
  • As of Fall 2017, total enrollment was 6,869 students, compared to 3,075 in 1994.

Watching the Coles College mature during the past 25 years has been a surreal experience for Coles.

“It’s always extraordinarily humbling when I visit Kennesaw State, especially the Coles College,” he said. “I knew there was tremendous potential, but no one could have imagined how much it would grow. Whenever I walk into the [Burruss] Building, I am overwhelmed by what’s happening there.”

Wednesday’s Executive in Residence Day was the latest in a series of events scheduled throughout the 2018-2019 academic year to commemorate the 25th  anniversary of the Coles College’s naming. The College is collectively calling these events “The Year of Michael J. Coles.”

In February, Coles will host the 19th annual Lessons in Leadership, organized by the Executive MBA program. Later in the spring he will be a featured speaker in the College’s Tetley Distinguished Leader Lecture Series. In addition, Coles will be hosting guest lectures in business classes throughout the academic year.

Michael J. Coles

With all of the excitement surrounding the 25th anniversary and the book launch, Coles says what he enjoys the most is having opportunities to engage directly with up-and-coming business students.

“That’s my favorite thing to do,” he said. “I feel like my story is one most people can relate to. If it does nothing else, it might give them the power to find the strength they already have inside themselves.”

For more about The Year of Michael J. Coles, visit ColesCollege.com/yearofcoles.

– Patrick Harbin

Photos by David Caselli


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu