Sir George James Coles (1885 – 1977) businessman and philanthropist
Sir G J Coles, founder of the Coles retail stores, was both a businessman and philanthropist. He was also a committed Christian being warden of St John’s Anglican Church in Toorak.
After the war George and Arthur Coles sold their store to an uncle and in June 1919 opened another in larger premises in Smith Street. The success of the partnership encouraged them to establish G. J. Coles & Co. Pty Ltd on 1 July 1921, with George as managing director. By 1924 their brothers (Sir) Edgar and (Sir) Kenneth, and half-brother (Sir) Norman had also become involved.
They began to use the slogan ‘nothing over 2/6’ which became a by-word for the business.
Expansion was swift. During the 1920s G. J. Coles & Co. acquired further stores and in 1924 opened one in Bourke Street, in the heart of Melbourne’s central business district
Next year it purchased Cole’s Book Arcade, Bourke Street, and opened an Art Deco store there. Suffering poor health in 1931, George handed over the managing directorship to Arthur, but remained as chairman. His autocratic style of leadership led to an abortive attempt by his brothers to oust him in 1935 amid public controversy. G. J. Coles & Co. continued to expand despite the Depression, and on the eve of World War II operated eighty-six stores nationally.
Finding that the less onerous role of chairman enabled him to pursue other interests, in 1934 George had become president of the Melbourne Rotary Club. In the previous year he had taken on the honorary position of treasurer to the Alfred Hospital and was soon advocating expansion and improvement. He was appointed chairman of a sub-committee to develop a ten-year building plan which in 1936 proposed a multi-storey development.
George contributed some £10,000. As president (1939-42) of the board, he made good use of knowledge acquired since his appointment (1935) to the Victorian Hospital and Charities Commission. George made a further substantial contribution to the Alfred Hospital to enable the construction of a much-needed wing. It opened in 1943 as the Margaret Coles Maternity Wing (from 1955 Margaret Coles House) in honour of his wife who had joined him in energetically supporting several charities, among them the Melbourne District Nursing Society.
In 1956 George retired as chairman and continued as a director. He remained comparatively aloof from the family business, concentrating more of his energy on political and philanthropic causes. He belonged to the Royal Melbourne and the Peninsula golf clubs (president 1954-58), as well as to the Athenaeum, the Victoria Racing and the Melbourne Cricket clubs, but his family and other intellectual interests took up most of his time. A committed Christian, he was a warden of St John’s Anglican Church, Toorak.
Complete article : http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A130512b.htm
Coles in 2014 http://www.coles.com.au/
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