Cole later joined NEC Limited in 1974, two years before the venue opened.
He said: "It has been a fabulous experience helping to turn Birmingham's most ambitious concept into reality, to see the venues in the NEC Group become so successful. We challenged the assumption that national flagships needed to be based in capital cities. I look forward to keeping in touch with the new team, under Andrew Morris, as they take the venture forward in an increasingly competitive global market."
Cole has had an active role within the industry throughout his career.
He has served on the board for several trade bodies including the British Conference and Exhibition Centres Export Council, the Exhibition Venues Association, the European Major Exhibition Centres Association, and a UK exhibition industry market research group.
He also co-ordinated the promotional campaign, 'Birmingham Invites You', and the city's bid for the Millennium Exhibition.
Andrew Morris, NEC Group chief executive, said: "John has served the NEC and the West Midlands exceptionally well over the years and we are sad to see him retire. I am pleased that he will continue to be involved with the NEC Group in a consultancy capacity. We all wish him a happy retirement and there will always be a red carpet for him at all our venues."