Ed Michaels, businessman and philanthropist, dies at 81

Helped Atlanta pitch for Olympics, passionate about education
Ed Michaels, right, and his wife Joanie Michaels. Michaels was a noted business consultant and champion for teachers and education in Atlanta. He also helped the city pull together its plan to attract the 1996 Olympic Games.

Credit: courtesy of family

Credit: courtesy of family

Ed Michaels, right, and his wife Joanie Michaels. Michaels was a noted business consultant and champion for teachers and education in Atlanta. He also helped the city pull together its plan to attract the 1996 Olympic Games.

Ed Michaels was a no-nonsense management consultant, offering advice to leading Atlanta companies and helping coalesce a plan to attract the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

He also was a tender-hearted man who fought for better education and for 17 years paid tribute to exceptional Atlanta teachers.

In 2006, the first year he presented the Atlanta Families’ Awards for Excellence in Education, Michaels stood before a crowd and cried. He couldn’t stand the idea of awarding money to the five winners and none to the runners-up.

“He ended up giving them all the full award, $2,500 for themselves and $2,500 for their schools,” his daughter, Katie Post, said.

Edward G. Michaels III, a retired senior partner and director of the international management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, a philanthropist, and education champion died Nov. 8. He was 81.

A native of Meadville, Pennsylvania, Michaels grew up in small Monroeville, Alabama, best-known as the hometown of writers Harper Lee (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) and Truman Capote (“In Cold Blood).” Post said he and Harper Lee golfed together as youngsters on a course made of sand.

At his mother’s insistence, Michaels attended The McCallie School, an all-boys college prep high school in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“My grandmother saw a curiosity and an intellect in him that she didn’t think was being satisfied,” Post said.

Ed Michaels being honored by the McCallie School in Tennessee when they named a Street on campus after him. He created a scholarship at the school that he attended. To date, more than 500 boys have been helped through the program.

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Ed Michaels family

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Credit: Photo courtesy of the Ed Michaels family

At McCallie, the teachers gave him the confidence to believe the sky was the limit in terms of what he could achieve academically, his family said.

“And he really wanted that for every boy and girl in Atlanta,” daughter Katie said. “He always believed education was the great equalizer.”

She said he also realized that it didn’t matter how great Atlanta was, how awesome its highways were, or how good the quality of life was, unless it had schools that families wanted to send their children to.

That drove his decade-long commitment to providing free consulting services to Atlanta Public Schools. He also championed education projects, including a scholarship program that has helped 500 boys at McCallie.

And he and his wife Joanie helped start Teach for America Metro Atlanta. The program places college-educated professionals without a teaching degrees into classrooms. It has been criticized by teaching traditionalists, especially because it asks for only a two-year commitment. But federal Department of Education studies show some successes, especially by its math and science teachers.

Post said her dad thought the upsides outweighed the downsides and that the model is one of the top, if not the best, in introducing bright young people into the classroom.

Michaels graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1964, served in the Navy, and then married the former Joan Todt, his wife of more than 50 years. In 1969, after earning his MBA from Harvard University, Michaels went to work for the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company in Los Angeles.

An early partner, he pushed to set up an office in Atlanta and came here to run it.

Tiffany Burns, managing partner of the Atlanta office, said, “Thanks in part to his legacy, McKinsey’s Atlanta office is now vibrant and more than 1,000 people strong.”

Michaels became friends with top CEOs around Atlanta and the world.

Billy Payne, the architect of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, said Michaels was a huge help to him, “especially at the very beginning when we struggled, first to become known, and, second, to attain some credibility.”

Atlanta was a dark horse contender, but Michaels helped the Olympic organizers develop a business plan “to support a crazy idea,” Payne said. “He established not only that we could dream big, but we could actually pay for it.”

When he retired, Michaels created the Atlanta Families’ Awards for Excellence in Education, now called the Teach On Project, to give educators money to spend on themselves and in their classrooms. Danielle Battle, now the Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent, is a former award winner.

Ed Michaels receiving an award for his efforts to shine a bright light on educators in Metro Atlanta public schools with his daughter, Katie Post.

Credit: Photos courtesy of Ed Michaels' family

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Credit: Photos courtesy of Ed Michaels' family

Among Michaels’s other passions were writing and golfing. He wrote a 1997 business book, “The War for Talent,” about the importance of talent acquisition and its impact on corporate performance. He also served four years on the United States Golf Association executive board.

In 2014, he was diagnosed with a form of blood cancer. He took this diagnosis as a challenge he would understand, analyze, and ultimately conquer, his daughter said.

Michaels is survived by his wife Joanie; daughter Katharine (Katie) Post of Atlanta; son Edward (Ned) Michaels of Nashville; four grandchildren and three step-grandchildren; his sister Charlotte Saxon; and a nephew, In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The McCallie School Michaels-Dickson Scholarship or Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute.

A memorial service for Ed Michaels will be held on Tuesday, Dec, 19, at noon at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, 3180 Peachtree Road NE, immediately followed by a celebration of life at The Piedmont Driving Club.