Welcome to Weight Loss for CEOs. A podcast that teaches executives and leaders how to deal with the unique challenges of achieving sustainable weight loss while balancing the responsibility of a growing company, family, and their own health. Here’s your host, executive coach, Diana Murphy.
Good morning, listeners. You are in for a treat today. This is Diana, but I have a guest. Michael Coles is with me today and the reason I brought him on to interview him was I heard him at a recent networking event and was totally inspired by his journey that he talks about in his book.
And some of the subtitle is From Poverty and Near-Fatal Accident to The Cookie King. And so we’re interviewing entrepreneur Michael Coles. And he recently wrote a book that he shared that’s called Time to Get Tough: How Cookies, Coffee, and A Crash Led to Success in Business and Life.
And I didn’t read his book before I heard him speak, but I know what he shares in this book, if it’s anything like what I heard in this talk, is going to be inspiring to you. So I wanted to bring him to you today.
I am going to share, Michael, if that’s okay, a few things that I’ve learned about you. You were – and Michael, do just go ahead and say hello.
Michael: Good morning, it’s nice to be with you.
Diana: Good morning. And, Michael has been so gracious to get up very early because he’s on the West Coast and I’m on the East Coast. So, Michael, you’d call yourself an entrepreneur. You were the cofounder of the Great American Cookie Company and the former CEO of Caribou Coffee. And one of the things that I’m really extremely grateful for is your role in film, because you really were part of bringing the film industry to Georgia.
And so, as the chair of the Georgia Film Commission, Michael was instrumental in spearheading the legislation that led to the boom in the movie industry. And that is really exciting to me. But what really got my attention during your talk, Michael, is the journey to becoming a record-holder in transcontinental bike races. And he right now is the holder of the record for riding from Savannah to San Diego – I can barely handle a flywheel class – 11 days, eight hours, and 15 minutes.
So that’s the introduction, but Michael, I would like to hear more about how the book tour is going, what is going on for you, and any other anecdotes that you want to share about yourself.
Michael: Well again, good morning. It’s nice to be with you and your audience.
Diana: Good morning.
Michael: I guess I would start out by saying that there’s two things in my life that have been a big surprise. One would be that growing up in the clothing business, I never imagined that I would grow up to be Willy Wonka selling basically all over the country. And I guess the second thing was starting out on riding a big newspaper boy bicycle as a kid, I never imagined that I would wind up becoming a two-time world record holder in cycling across the United States.
And I think the story behind that for me is that after a devastating motorcycle accident where I was told that I would never walk unaided again when I was 33 years old, I had an incident with my daughter Tara who was three at the time that virtually changed my life. I won’t go into more detail about that, but suffice it to say that I was given a regiment to get better by my doctors and nine months after my accident I really was just not getting anywhere.
Now, the world was a lot different in 1977 as far as athletics. There were not the kind of gyms that there are today. There were not the kind of infomercials you find on your television every three minutes about how to get into shape or stay in shape. At 33 years old, you know, pretty much your life was over by doctors and you weren’t going to be doing anything athletic, so if I can get you back on canes or crutches, that would be great, that’s fine.
Today, the prognosis for my accident would be a lot different, and I think a lot of what I did through a self-styled rehabilitation program was extraordinary at the time. I’m not sure it would be today. I had to really dig deep into some of the athletic things I had done in my earlier life to design this program to get better. It obviously just took a great amount of will and determination to get my legs bending again so that I could begin to walk.
Diana: Yeah, and so it really sounds like, with the tools that you had at hand, that you weren’t willing to take what the doctor said as your sentence.
Michael: Well, you know, when you have a three year old daughter and you’re on two canes and she asks you to race for the mailbox, and when you take off to run and realize that you are disabled for the very first time since the accident, which was nine months earlier, it was devastating. And what was the most devastating was her realizing what pain I was in and making excuses like, daddy we don’t have to run to the mailbox today, I’m really tired.
And again, so it was just a big wakeup call because I grew up very poor. My whole life, people had always told me what my limits were and so doctors had allowed me to live in this safety zone of what my future looked like and I can sit here today and tell you that at 33, learning how to walk again really hurts. And so I kind of had given up. And so that wakeup call changed my business life, my physical life forever and I went back into my house, told my wife that I was not going to spend the rest of my life like this, even if I didn’t get any better, I had to try something different.
And so I started a regiment which was very much the opposite of what I was doing. I had been a power lifter when I was in my early 20s, so instead of using high repetitions with low weight, I started doing low repetitions with very heavy weight. And I start getting on a stationary bike to try to gain more flexibility in my legs.
My wife and I bought a hot tub because I was having to go all the way to the hospital for rehab and it was a two-hour journey and somebody had to drive me because I couldn’t drive. And so my wife would get in the hot tub with me and help me bend my legs and you could literally hear the scar tissue crack, even in the water. But every day we did it, I was getting a little bit better and a little bit stronger.
I was extraordinarily disciplined. I did this very early in the morning so that I would have the whole day ahead of me. And I eventually went from this stationary bike to a regular bike, riding shorter distances at the beginning and then longer distances. It’s all described in the book.
Diana: Yeah, that’s so great. I want to just stop you just a little bit here because what I heard, and I think I’m understanding as you’re sharing this even deeper of how this really related to your business and what you had already really done in business. But it was like you weren’t willing to stay in this safe place, that you didn’t see the limits that the doctor saw and that you were willing to go through whatever you had to, that grit to go through it is what got you through. That just really got my attention.
Michael: So, it was interesting because I had to fall back on both kind of business process and physical fitness processes to get through it. and what I mean by that is that I had learned a long time ago in business that if you have this lofty goal – let’s just say the cookie company opened and the lofty goal was to become a national company – well if you don’t have something in between that and that lofty goal, you’ll give up because it’s a very big goal.
And so, I realized with my training that I had to do the same thing, which is I measured the bend of my leg every day. I got one of those little measuring things, and so every day I would just try to get one degree more of bend. I knew what the endgame was, which was to get to 135 degrees, but I started out, I was at like 60 degrees. And so to go from 60 to 135, it’s such a big jump. I had to reward myself kind of on a daily basis knowing that I was making progress, and I think it’s the same thing you have to do in your business.
Diana: Yeah, so it is no surprise to me that they related. But I think so often when we’re in our lives and in our circumstances that we have no idea how powerful that is, that we need to set that big goal but we cannot reach it without just being in the smaller steps and celebrating it along the way, kind of really, yes, I’m not at 135 degree bend, but I’m two degrees more than I was a week ago.
Michael: Exactly, and because if the goal becomes too lofty – anybody who’s ever been on a diet knows exactly what I’m talking about. If you want to lose 30 pounds or 20 pounds or 10 pounds and that’s all you’re focused on and not the ounces or the pounds in between, you just wind up breaking the diet. You just don’t do it and you give up on it. You’ve got to keep your eye on the prize, but you’ve got to reward yourself along the way.
Diana: Yeah, I hear where we’re at in your story, the grit part, like the really knowing that you’re going to have to go through a little pain to get there, but the big goal of being able to be mobile with your, as a 33 year old, just to be mobile, but mobile with your children, mobile in your life. But tell me what happened from there. So you’re on the bike just to get flexibility and using all the tools at hand brought them closer to home by bringing the hot tub home, willing to do what you needed. But tell me how that moved from there to some of the bigger things, business and the cycling.
Michael: The biking thing became really from a need to want to be outside. My accident happened in August of 77, and so I kind of went through the fall and winter, and then spring came in Atlanta nine months after my accident and then I still was not very mobile the rest of that year.
And by the time the following spring came, I didn’t want to be indoors anymore. I wanted to be able to be outside. I used to run; I couldn’t do that anymore. And so dug out this old yellow Schwinn bike and I decided, you know what, I’m going to start riding outdoors now that I have flexibility in my legs.
And the funny story about that is I couldn’t get up our driveway, so I had to walk up the driveway kind of using the bike as leverage. And I got up to the top of the driveway and I put my leg over the bike and I started riding and I’m like, wow this is great, I’m doing fantastic. I mean, I was really moving along and I got down to the end of our road and I made a left turn and still really moving along, thinking to myself, boy I’m really better than I thought I was.
And then I realized I had been going downhill the whole time, and so I went down this long hill and when I hit the first hill to go back up, I got about halfway up it and I had to literally get off the bike because I was about to fall over, I…
Diana: Couldn’t propel, couldn’t make it up the hill.
Michael: Yeah, so that became my first goal, to just try to make it to the end of the street. And it took a while, months maybe, and then I started riding longer and longer distances, and then eventually, you know, I got kind of carried away, as I do with a lot of things in my life. And I came up with this idea to ride coast to coast from Savannah to San Diego. And it took a lot of discipline and it took a lot of training.
I did it the first time in 82. I was very unprepared. I knew I could do much better. And then in 1983, I set out with – again, I don’t want to go into all of this because it’s all in the book in a lot of detail, but basically, in 83 – I set the record in 82 with 15 and a half days and knew that I could do it much faster. I was on a sub-nine-day record. I would have broken my record by over six days, because this time I had a crew, I had a nutritionist. I had everything I needed to be able to stay on the bike for longer and longer times.
And I crashed and broke my collarbone less than 500 miles from San Diego and the ride was over. And so, in 84, I set out to do it again in horrible conditions and with headwinds. Anybody that rides a bike knows that headwinds are the worst thing you can face. And I had headwinds all the way from Savannah all the way to San Diego from 30 miles an hour all the way up to 70 miles an hour in California.
I did manage to get across the country. I broke my record by over four days. And the most incredible part of all of that is that when I finished it in 1984, I knew I’d get my physical life back if I were able to get across the country one time, let alone three times. But I never imagined the effect it was going to have on my business life and the way I would look at things from that point on.
Diana: Yeah because I know many people would have stopped when the driveway didn’t work or when the road didn’t work. And to break your collarbone 500 miles away from your goal that is that lofty, when you were sharing that, and I know this is what got my heart when I was listening to you share your story is what do you do in those moments? What are you thinking? How are you getting yourself back up like that? I just heard you say, I knew I could do better, and you got the crew, but how do you pull yourself back up from breaking your collarbone and not giving up ahead of time, which so many of us do?
Michael: Well, I think part of it that you have to look at what you were able to accomplish. I mean, there’s nothing wrong. It’s not about ego. When I felt myself going down on that Arizona highway in 1983 when I broke my collarbone, I got hit by a dust-devil, which is a dwarf tornado. I knew at the speed I was going down it was unlikely I was going to get back up.
But when I’d had a good night’s sleep in an Arizona hospital that night, all I could think about was how fast I had gotten there, all the training I had done, all the people that were involved, I almost felt like I had let them down by not being able to finish the race. And I also knew that, in some ways, that I had to prove once again that I was capable of doing this.
And so I went back to Atlanta with a vengeance to do this one more time and basically assembled a similar crew, not the same crew, all determined to help me get across the country. And I don’t think any of us could have imagines the kind of winds that I had to face and the determination to keep going. And the winds were, at times, you could not stay on the bike. The wind was so strong, the bike would just stop and you’d have to get off the bike before you fell over.
And I started pushing my bike when I was in about the last 30 or 40 miles into San Diego and I remembered the documentary crew that was with me asked me, are you going to walk all the way to San Diego? And I basically said, if I have to. And because there were two things that happened at that moment for me, one was I had to finish.
And people will say to me, did you have to finish because you were determined to break your record? And I said no, I had to finish because I didn’t want to do it again. And I think people find themselves sometimes, in business and in life, facing frustrations because things are not going the way you want and you can either quit and it will gnaw at you forever knowing that you quit, or getting through it and knowing that now you’ve moved ahead.
And for me, that’s what it was all about. I knew if I quit, I would wind up in some hotel in California and I’d wake up the next morning feeling good and wanting to do it again. And I just never wanted to have to do that particular thing ever again. I wanted to be able to move past it. And the only way to move past it was to finish.
Diana: And I hear where the ego is out of it, that it is the completing of the goal, it’s the process of the goal, it’s the team you asked to join you in the goal.
Michael: And remember, I didn’t make the goal. My goal was to get across the country in 10 days or less and I wound up 11 days, eight hours and 15 minutes. But at that point, the 10 days didn’t matter anymore. It was knowing that I could get through it and knowing that I had done my absolute best based on the conditions.
I mean, if I had had weather like I had had the day before, I didn’t have a dust-devil in 1984, I probably would have broken that record by at least five or six days. But the one thing I do want to talk about is that something happened on that ride that I don’t know that I ever would have remembered had I not written the book. And this is all in the book.
When we went across the country in 1984 it was very well organized. I had police escorts through every major city that we went through. So I determined myself when I would get off the bike, when I would stop, if I had to take a break for whatever reason, get a massage, have a chiropractic adjustment. Whatever it was, I determined that.
When we got to California, because the winds were so strong, we could not get a police escort because we didn’t know when or if I would ever get to San Diego. And so my crew determined that the way to lead me after we got off the interstate was a friend of mine, a guy named Dave Johnson, came out to meet me and he escorted me for the last five miles. And basically, we just had a bunch of water bottles, the crew, a documentary crew, a media van that we had, everybody left and went to the courthouse and the two of us were by ourselves.
And I did not remember this last five-mile incident until we started writing the book because basically, we were alone. And we got to the first traffic light and I had to stop, again, first time with me not determining it, and my legs started to cramp. And I thought to myself, this is not good. We got back on the bike, we rode for a few more blocks, another red light. I had to stop and this time it was worse.
It was so bad that I was afraid that if I started pedaling to get back on the bike that my legs weren’t going to work and I would basically fall over. And I turned to my friend Dave and I said, I can’t do it. and he looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. He said, what do you mean you can’t do it? I said, I’ve got nothing left. I’ve got to get some sleep.
And he was like, we’ve got less than five miles to go, and he said why don’t you just try to make it to the next light? And so I did. I pushed myself to the next light and then the next block and eventually we made a right turn on Broadway and people knew we were coming and so the streets were lined with people cheering. The adrenaline kicked in and I managed to get to the courthouse and break my record by over four days.
And the thing about that was, and even without remembering how that went, everything I’ve done in my business life since, that moment changed me and I didn’t remember how it had changed me until we wrote the book. And here is what the lesson was; the lesson was it doesn’t matter how many thousands of miles you ride, all that matters is the last five miles. And it doesn’t matter how many hours or weeks or months you spend on a process or a product. All that matters is the very end of it and how you complete it.
And many times in business, we find ourselves in the middle of a process or a project or whatever it may be and it’s not going exactly the way we expected, but if you don’t finish the last five miles, even if it’s not going to work the way you expected, it will not prepare you for the next five miles. And for me, everything that happened on that ride, the way I looked at things completely changed in understanding how you have to prepare for what’s ahead by what you have done in the past.
Diana: Wow, that is so phenomenal because even if we give up in that last five miles, the actual virtual result might be pretty similar to still finishing the five miles. But what you’re saying is that by finishing that last five miles, what happened to you, almost at a cellular soul level, then prepares you for the next challenge. Is that what I’m hearing?
Michael: Yeah, here’s the thing; Bobby Jones had a great line, greatest amateur golfer of all time, when he said that, “I never learned anything from a golf tournament I won.” And I think that when you run into the frustration of those last – and the last five miles is obviously a metaphor for completion of what you’re doing. And the frustration and the agony of things not going exactly the way you expected them to go, the reason it’s so important to finish is because there’s so much to be learned within that frustration.
There’s so much that you can gain by wondering why is this not going the way it should. But if you just kind of say, well it’s not working, and put it aside and then move onto something else, you will never have to dig as deep. You will never get the kind of knowledge that you can get out of something that is not going right. When things go right, there’s not much to learn. When things don’t go right, there’s plenty to learn.
Diana: So, can you give any examples, now that you look back, that both in fitness and health and in business that could really make it palpable to my listeners? What are some examples that now, looking back, that you really see that that played out?
Michael: Okay, well the best example, I probably would say, is again, all in my book.
Diana: Yes, and we are going to make sure that my listeners know how to get a hold of it, for sure.
Michael: Look, here’s what I would say. You probably have plenty of people out there that are listening that are about to maybe even start their own business, they’re involved in a business, they’re maybe trying to get through some kind of crisis in their life or whatever it may be. The best example I can give anybody would be the opening day of the cookie company.
We started the company and we struggled to get a location. We finally got a mall developer to believe in us and give us a location. We had very little money and we had done a tremendous amount of research on the cookie business. We had to sign personal guarantees for a $25,000 loan. We had to put up all of our personal assets. We had to sign a personal guarantee on a lease at Perimeter Mall, which was $25,000 a year for 10 years, a quarter of a million dollars. And selling 30 cent cookies, you know, that’s a lot of cookies to pay the rent.
And on the opening day when we got there on June 29th 1977, we gave away free cookies from nine to 12. We had maybe 150 people outside the doors knowing that at nine o’ clock in the morning until 12 noon they were going to get free cookies. And we put the first batch of 300 cookies in the oven, and when the bell went off three minutes after we put it in and the cookies were beautifully golden brown and ready to be served, we opened up the oven door, looked in at these magnificent golden brown chocolate chip cookies and it was exactly at this moment that we realized that we had no oven mitts, potholders, rags.
We had no way to get the cookies out of the oven and we basically watched those cookies go round and round, going from golden brown to dark brown to catching on fire. We were on a combined air conditioning system with Park Lane Hosiery. Smoke was pouring out of our oven into their store. The fire department came.
And Jeff Wilder was the guy that took a chance on us. I saw him coming towards the store with one simple question; is this what it’s going to be like every day, guys? He could have broken our lease right there. He would have had a right. There was a clause in the lease to basically say we are a detriment to the mall and just broken the lease. We would have lost everything at that moment.
But once again, he took another chance on us. And the lesson from all of that, and boy it’s a long story on that first day, but the real lesson from that is it doesn’t really matter how much you prepare, all the things that you studied to make sure you’re going to be a success; success is going to be determined by what you don’t prepare for, because we could have been put out of business by a $3 set of potholders. And it’s how you deal with the unexpected.
And for me, that’s a lesson in any physical activity. Things happen. How many people train for a marathon and hit the wall at six miles and wonder, oh my god, I’ve run 10 of these before, why am I hitting the wall? You know, in any kind of athletic event, how many times I’ve been in a bike race and I was doing really well and got a flat tire and that was the end of it, you know. I watched the pack pass me and disappear.
So it is how you deal with the unexpected and it’s not a question of getting knocked down. It’s a question of staying down. If you get knocked down on a bike, you’ve got to get back up and keep going. If you get knocked down in a venture or something that’s hit you in your life that’s really tough, are you going to get back up and continue to move forward?
Diana: I sense too, like I’m the mindset coach. Yes, I coach wellness, for sure, that’s the lens that I start with when I work with clients, I love that space, but what I’m hearing is that you never let those failures mean something. Like, when you said it’s not about ego, and what I’m observing is it was never, like, I’m a failure because the cookies burned. Okay, now what do we do?
Like, there was never that place where you allowed – and you may for a moment. We all have those moments. But you never let that define the next step.
Michael: Well, that’s because you have to look at what you’ve accomplished. I mean, even on the day that those cookies burned, what we had to focus on was the fact that we have built a beautiful store, we had all the right equipment, we had the right process to serve and to deal with customers.
We knew all the things that had to be done. We had what was a setback, not a failure, but a setback. And learning from that setback, I will guarantee you this, there was never a time – we opened hundreds of stores. We always had panhandlers, potholders, or oven mitts, whatever you want to call them. We always had them.
Did we make other mistakes? Oh yes, many, many, many along the way. But it was always about how do you deal with the mistake and then how do you learn from it and how do you move forward? To me, being in business is about one simple thing; you’re going to make a mistake, just don’t ever make the same mistake.
Diana: Yeah, and that’s the learning from it instead of staying on repeat. And, you know, for folks that I work with that have large amounts of weight to lose, this is so key because I, as the coach on the outside, can see where they are really successful. And it’s just not showing up yet in the results or it’s not showing up fast enough.
I think most of us that have the guts and the grit to start a business and to be an entrepreneur or to serve and be pulled in as a CEO, as you’ve had that experience as well, we love fast results. We love quick. And how did you move to being more patient to results? I hear that from you as well.
Michael: Well, you know, I guess my accident. People have often asked me, where was the turning point? Growing up as a poor kid, what would you say the turning point was that got you to be on this road towards success? And I’ve always said it was my motorcycle accident, because before my motorcycle accident, I always had to think of things in a different way, but I never had to dig as deep as I did to start to walk again.
And so that process of how long that took and having to learn to go from not being able to walk to riding across the country on a bicycle, that didn’t happen overnight. And I think the slowing down of those intermediate goals, which I then was able to really take to my business life, I don’t even know that I recognized I had slowed down.
But I know now that I don’t make decisions emotionally. I don’t do that anymore. I did that when I would younger, that I would hear something and I wouldn’t gather all the facts. I would react. If I hear something and I’m ready to react, I will always say, “I want to think about this. I want to make sure I have all of the facts before I make a decision.”
And I think the process of learning to walk was a big step in understanding, getting all of the information before you make a decision, and it definitely has changed my way of thinking in business.
Diana: I love it. Michael, do you have anything else you want to share with the audience? I feel like this is so powerful and the analogies of when, whether it’s a weight loss journey, whether it’s a wellness journey, of experiencing a lot of stress and learning how to manage life, take it slower, really gather all the details, get out of our ego and worrying about failure, you know, all of this really is where my clients are living. But is there anything else that you’d like to share? And then we want to share where they can find you.
Michael: Well, here’s the one thing I would like to share. First of all, my dad went bankrupt when I was 10 and I didn’t really understand the effects of his bankruptcy until I was 13. When I was 10, all it meant was I had to give up my dog. And so I didn’t understand what bankruptcy really meant.
But when I was 13 and our life really began to change financially and I had to go to work, that was really the first time that I understood the turn my life had taken. And throughout my book, I talk about the story of David and Goliath. And I use Goliath as a metaphor because when I hit that point at 13, I wanted a story in my head that would keep me motivated and I went back to the story of David and Goliath, which is the first story I ever heard of overcoming adversity.
And David, this small man walks into the valley, not only defeats the giant, but kills him. And for a lot of people, that was always the message of the story. But for me, even as a kid, the message of that story was that David had the courage to step into the valley without knowing what the outcome was.
And so for all of us, just as you just described, Diana, whether it’s for me, let’s say, learning to walk, or maybe we’re starting a new business, changing careers, trying to lose weight, trying to get our lives back in order, all of us face Goliath challenges every single day. And I think the real question you have to ask yourself is whether you have the courage to step into the valley and take that first step.
And I think you’ve got to look at your successes to keep you motivated, even if they’re small successes. You’ve got to relish them and understand I had that success, I can have further success.
Diana: That’s so perfect. I’m so glad I asked that question. I’m so glad we’ve been able to hear from you today. I know that even hearing your story again has made a difference, so I know that the book is going to be a valuable tool for my audience and those I can’t wait to get into their hands. So, how can they find you? I assume it’s the title, From Poverty, A Near-Fatal Accident, to The Cookie King, or is it Time to Get Tough.
Michael: The title is Time to Get Tough: How Cookies, Coffee, and a Crash Led to Success in Business and Life. It’s available on Amazon in both hardcopy and a Kindle version. And then you can also reach me at michaelcoles.com. And I wrote this book not to brag about my accomplishments. I wrote this book because I feel like my life story is relatable to most people and I think that if they read the book, they’ll find strength within themselves that perhaps they didn’t know they had.
Diana: Yeah, I know it has for me. I know it really made a difference to me. Thank you so much, Michael, for being on my podcast today. And if you’re in your car and you have not gotten the title, you know that all you have to do is go to dianamurphycoaching.com/podcast and look for the Michael Coles interview and you will find the link to his book, Time to Get Tough. I love that. Michael, thank you so much for being with me today.
Michael: Great to be with you.
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