Thomas J. Bata, CC also known as Tomas Bata Jr. and Tomáš Baťa ml. and “Shoemaker to the World”, ran the Bata Shoe Company from the 1940s until the 1980s.
Thomas J. Bata was born (17 th September , 1914) in the Czech city of Prague, in what is now the Czech Republic, the son of Czech industrialist Tomáš Baťa. As a boy he apprenticed under his father, Tomáš Sr., who began the T. & A. Bata Shoe company in 1894 in Zlín, Czechoslovakia. His father, however, was killed in a plane crash when Tomáš was only 17, in 1932. Baťa’s original surname is Batia. One of the least known reasons for his success was his vision to introduce new technologies to his company, taking the production to massive levels worldwide. Another factor was World War I, which ended the market that the company had under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. So between the 1920s and 1940s Bata installed factories in Asia, South America and Africa (which he foresaw as virgin market), thus becoming the largest shoemaker in the world. In the 1960s and 1970s the Bata white canvas (sneaker/running shoe) was iconic in the third world, representing between 60% and 80% of the shoe production in the countries where it operated. In Asia and South America the company focused on everyday affordable shoe production, leaving for Europe the high-quality, high-price shoes.
In the mid 1930s, in the throes of the Depression, the Bata Shoe company was faced with a serious dilemma: Mussolini needed boots for his army. Czechoslovakians were faced with ubiquitous layoffs and catastrophic unemployment. Baťa decided to be pragmatic to protect his livelihood and that of his employees. He rationalized that if he did not provide the army boots, some other company would, and his employees would suffer. He successfully pursued the contract, which directly assisted fascism but also saved the company.
Thomas J. Batawas the equivalent of Ford in breakthrough technology for his time. The company’s warehouse in the then Czechoslovakia was the first automated installation in Europe (designed by Peter Behrens – Architect) and in his company headquarters in Zlín, the central shaft of the building was an elevator with its personal office that could move from one floor to another. Like Ford, he established a repetitive mechanical system of production, which he called “work factor”. But unlike Ford, Tomáš Baťa had a social concern for his employees, paying fair wages and contributing to their welfare with social programs and sports facilities sponsored and financially supported by the company.
Thomas J. Bata attended school in Czechoslovakia, England and Switzerland. Anticipating the Second World War, he, together with over 100 families from Czechoslovakia, moved to Canada in 1939 to develop the Bata Shoe Company of Canada, including a shoe factory and engineering plant, centred in a town that still bears his name, Batawa, Ontario. Another legacy is Batanagar in Kolkata (Calcutta) India, which originally housed the shoe factory and the clerical employees, and today is a booming condominium development maintaining the name.
Thomas J. Bata successfully established and ran the new Canadian operations and during the war years, he sought to maintain the necessary coordination with as many of the overseas Bata operations as was possible. During this period the Canadian engineering plant manufactured strategic components for the Allies and Baťa worked together with the government in exile of President Beneš and other democratic powers. With the end of the war the Bata company in Czechoslovak territory was nationalized and the communists began to take control and to eliminate anything even remotely reminding people of Baťa’s system.
In 1945 it was clear that Zlín was lost and could no longer act as headquarters. Baťa held a meeting in East Tilbury near London, and the decision was taken that Bata Development Limited in England would become the service headquarters of the Bata Shoe Organization. In 1946 Bata operated 38 factories and 2,168 company shops; they produced 34 million pairs of shoes and employed 34,000 people. In 1948, however, Czechoslovakia was fully seized by communist powers, and Bata enterprises in Poland, East Germany, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria were lost.
The Bata Shoe Organization then expanded around the world. Between 1946 and 1960, 25 new factories were built and 1,700 company shops opened. In 1962, the Organization had production and sales activities in 79 countries there were 66 factories and 4,100 company shops. Yearly output was 175 million pairs of shoes and the organization employed 80,000 people. Bata moved the headquarters of the organization to Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1964, and in 1965 an ultramodern building, the Bata International Centre was opened. By 1975 the organization included 98 operating companies in 89 countries, employing 90,000 people; in the 90 factories, 250 million pairs of shoes were produced annually and the company operated over 5,000 shops. The Bata Shoe Organization, whose guiding principle was “Our
customer – Our Master” was the largest of its kind in the world. Baťa led the Organization until 1984 when his son Thomas George Bata became the CEO.
In December 1989, after the Communist government fell in Czechoslovakia, Baťa made a triumphant return to his hometown. Václav Havel, the Czech dissident leader and playwright turned president, asked Baťa to return. Baťa and his wife Sonja were greeted warmly in the main square in Zlín by thousands of cheering people. Baťa immediately initiated plans for the return of the organization to the place where it all started. By 2008, Bata’s Czech subsidiary operated 93 shops in the Czech Republic, 25 in Slovakia and 43 in Poland.
By 2000, the Bata company was struggling in Canada. In 2000, the original Batawa factory was closed. In 2001, the Bata stores in Canada were closed and the Bata Organization relocated its headquarters to Switzerland. Baťa remained in Toronto with his wife Sonja. Despite his age, Baťa continued to take an active role in the business. He continued to travel extensively and to visit many of the Bata operations around the world. He also maintained his extensive contacts with world political and business leaders.
Thomas J. Bata died on September 1, 2008 at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. A cause of death was not announced. He was survived by his wife Sonja (née Wettstein) whom he had married in 1946, their son and three daughters.
Baťa was invested as a Companion of the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian award and received the Order of T.G. Masaryk in the Czech Republic. He was particularly proud of his association with the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment. He joined the regiment during the Second World War and served as a captain in the Canadian Reserve Army and as honorary colonel from 1999 to 2007. He was frequently seen in the field visiting with its troops. In 2007 he received the FIRST Award for Responsible Capitalism, the lifetime Achievement Medal.
Thomas J. Bata worked with numerous charitable organizations. He was chairman of the Bata Shoe Foundation. His dedication to Junior Achievement International, Trent University and York University in Canada and the Tomáš Baťa University in the Czech Republic reflected his interest in the education of young people.
Thomas J. Bata participated in several leading business organizations. In Canada, he was a former director of Canadian Pacific Airlines and IBM Canada. He was a founding member of the Young Presidents Organization, chairman of the Commission on Multinational Enterprises of the International Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD and founding member of the Canada India Business Council.Tomáš Jan Baťa, Died on 1 September 2008 Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
1991 – Awarded the Czech Republic’s top decoration, the Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk.
2003 – Awarded the Retail Council of Canada’s Lifetime Achievement Award-Agency