Many years, many achievements

3 June 2021

You will struggle to meet many others who had a bigger impact on the South Australian retail sector than Geoff Coles AO.

The Carmelite Retirement Living resident rose through the ranks of iconic retailer John Martins, and held roles that include Managing Director & Chief Executive and Chairman.

He was awarded Member of Order of Australia (AM) in 1992, awarded South Australian Citizen of the year in 1994 and appointed an Officer in General Division of The Order of Australia (AO) in 2004.

“I could say a career with John Martins proved to be the best university course I could have ever done,” Geoff said.

“I have always been passionate about my state too, so that was really nice to be recognised.”

There are many more achievements to cover, and thankfully they’ve been brilliantly pieced together in a biography, An Eye for Retail Geoffrey Coles AO.

The book was compiled by Geoff’s brother, Haydon Coles, and gives a personal and fascinating story of how Geoff came from humble beginnings in the rural town of Clare to lead a successful life.

He was also chairman of the South Australian Tourism Commission, the Royal Adelaide Hospital and held other prominent positions.

He met the late Former President Richard Nixon, and Diana, Princess of Wales. He said they were both memorable moments, as was his friendship with Sir Edward Hayward.

Hayward owned and managed John Martin’s during a successful period, and provided leadership and inspiration to Geoff.

“Hayward always told me to watch what people do and to learn from them,” Geoff said.

“(A good example was) when he served in World War 2 and couldn’t understand what American troops were drinking in these red cans, especially during a live battle.”

“He found out it was Coca Cola, and when he got back from service he acquired the franchise and founded Coca Cola Bottlers (Adelaide) Pty Ltd. – which was a pretty good idea!”

So whether you’ve lived in or visited South Australia, you can thank Geoff for helping the state’s heart and soul grow through his commitment to its commerce, public health and tourism.