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Tomáš Baťa

photo: Tomáš Baťa (Wikimedia Commons)

Tomáš Baťa, a Czechoslovak born in Zlín (the region of Moravia), is considered to be one of the world’s greatest businessmen of his time. He and his family have built a footwear empire operating on international scale that has changed this branch forever. Besides shoemaking, he also left a mark on the face of Czechoslovak education and regional politics, in which he took part as well.

Baťa, the shoemaking company, was founded in the town of Zlín in the year 1894 by Tomáš Baťa and his siblings, sister Anna and brother Antonín. While being heavily indebted at the beginning, Tomáš came up with a revolutionary idea: he started making shoes out of textile, rather than (back then) common and expensive leather. This cheaper product quickly grew immensely popular and by the beginning of the 20th century, the firm prospered.

The expansion created another issue. In order to accommodate the growing number of workers, Baťa had to purchase land from the town of Zlín to build his famous “Baťa houses” for his employees. But that was just the beginning. The current look of Zlin is heavily influenced by Baťa’s architectural innovation. Besides his houses he also ordered the construction of schools, culture centers and even a Baťa cinema. In a similar way he influenced many other places around the globe, where his company operated (Batawa in Canada, Batadorp in the Netherlands, Batapur in Pakistan or Batanagar in India etc.).

The First World War, ironically, was excellent for the company, as it generated a huge demand for military shoes.  However, the end of it created a void in the sales. Baťa solved the occurring crisis by cutting shoe prices down to 50 % in order to stand a chance on the post-war market.  He was right to do so: the sales went up and at the beginning of the 1920s the company already included 120 shoe shops. In this moment Baťa decided to diversify his attention. In the year 1923 he became the mayor of Zlin and also began to direct his shoes into foreign markets and went as far as India. In 1928 the company was by far the greatest Czechoslovak exporter. New subsidiary companies were established all over Europe and overseas.

On July 12th 1932 Baťa planned to visit the opening of a new branch office in Switzerland. After his plane took off, the pilot lost control due to heavy fog and the machine collapsed, instantly killing both of the men on board. The company was then led by Tomáš’s brother Jan Antonín Baťa and kept growing under his tenure. However, the prime Czech branch of the company was nationalized in 1945 and renamed to “Svit” in 1949 as a way to erase Baťa’s famous name from public memory by the communist regime.
Even in the 21th century the company continues to prosper, although the European branch currently resides in Lausanne, Switzerland. It is estimated that its 50 thousand employees serve over one million customers a day. It is particularly strong on Indian market where it has resided ever since 1931 when it was brought there by the tragically deceased founder.

Author: Anna Horníková
Added: 08.02.2017

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