Czech shoe tycoon Thomas J. Bata celebrates 90th birthday

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Thomas J. Bata, former head of Czech shoe giant Bata is celebrating his 90th birthday this week. The occasion has drawn attention to this Czech success story, which revolutionised an entire industry. Since its humble beginnings as a family cobbler's shop in the Moravian town of Zlin, the Bata Shoe Organisation has grown into one of the biggest footwear companies in the world.

Thomas J. Bata, photo: CTK
The company was established by Thomas J. Bata's father Tomas in the late 19th century. Pavel Velev, executive director of the charitable Tomas Bata foundation in Zlin, explains the impact that the elder Bata's novel approach to cobbling had on shoemaking:

"Mr Bata changed shoe production, which was only for craftsmen before. He turned it into an industry by using the conveyer system that he had seen in America in the production of cars by the Ford company. He applied this to shoes and immediately increased production by 75%, which was something incredible. He started to make huge money for the company and was able to invest."

But as Mr Velev points out, Tomas Bata was more than just a money-spinning industrialist, but a philanthropist who tried to use the money he made from his business to improve the place where it operated, starting with his hometown of Zlin:

"Tomas Bata was also the city mayor of Zlin from 1923. This resulted in a very good symbiosis between the business leader and the city. Tomas Bata also started to develop the town and to build the houses for his employees. He built them cinemas, hotels and all the facilities that are necessary for a good life. These people were very, very satisfied with their jobs, their salaries and their life in Zlin."

Bata shoe factory, photo: www.czech-tv.cz
With Tomas Bata's son Thomas J Bata at the helm in the 1950s, 60s and 70s the Bata Shoe Organisation built on the traditions established by its founder. It continued to advance manufacturing techniques and extensive employee training. It also moved into other countries of operation and always made it a priority to contribute to the economy in any new markets it entered.

Ironically, during this period, the company couldn't operate in the country where it started. With the communists in power here, the success of this capitalist enterprise was frowned upon. But, as Pavel Velev says, this sad state of affairs is now thankfully a thing of the past:

"After the Second World War in 1945, the company was nationalised by communists. The company was renamed very shortly afterwards. The communists did everything to make sure the name of Bata was forgotten. Because Bata was something that didn't sit well with communist ideology. It was forbidden to talk about it. But we're happy that Mr Bata Jr. could come back and start a new business here, We are now seeing the return of the Bata philosophy and the Bata tradition to the Czech Republic."