Monday, January 16, 2012

Tomáš Jan Baťa

Tomáš Jan Baťa, CC (September 17, 1914 – September 1, 2008), 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 '80s. His last name pronounce baht-ya.

Baťa was born 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 origin surname is Batia.

Tomáš J. Baťa 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, centered in a town that still bears his name, Batawa, Ontario. Tomáš J. BaŤa 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 Thomas J. Bata worked together with the government in exile of President Benes and other democratic powers. With the end of the war the Bata company in the Czechoslovak territory was nationalized and the communists began to take control and to began to eliminate anything even remotely reminding people of Bata's system. In 1945 it was clear that Zlin was lost for the rest of the Bata companies in the free world and could no longer act as a headquarters. Thomas J. Bata held a meeting in East Tilbury near London, UK 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 greatest asset of the Bata companies was their people. Experienced employeees embarked energetically on work and only a few years later the Bata Shoe Organization under Thomas J. Bata had spread successfully across the world. Between 1946 and 1960 under the leadership of Thomas J. Bata 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. Thomas J. Bata moved the headquarters of the Organization to Toronto, Canada in 1964 and in 1965 an ultra modern building, the Bata International Centre was opened. By 1975 the Bata Shoe Organization included 98 operating companies in 89 countries of the world 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 under the dynamic leadership of Thomas J. Bata, whose guiding principle was "Our customer - Our Master" was the largest of its kind in the world. Tomáš J. Baťa led the Bata Shoe Organization until 1984 when his son Thomas George Bata became the CEO.

After the Communist government fell in Czechoslovakia, Tomáš J. Baťa made a triumphant return to his hometown in December 1989. Václav Havel, the Czech dissident leader and playwright turned president, asked Bata to return. Thomas J. Bata was greeted warmly in the main square in Zlin by thousands of people cheering him and he immediately initiated plans for the return of the Organization to the place where it all started. By 2008, the Czech company operated 93 shops in the Czech Republic, 25 in Slovakia and 43 in Poland.

Tomáš J. Baťa remained in Toronto with his wife Sonja I. Bata, founder of the Bata Shoe Museum which opened in 1998 in Toronto, where he continued to take an active role in the business. He continued to travel extensively and to visit as many of the Bata operations around the world as he could. He also maintained his extensive contacts with world political and business leaders.

In addition to his many university doctorates, he was 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.

Tomáš J. Baťa's consideration for others led to his work 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 special interest in the education of young people.

He 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 J. Batia looked back with pride on his success in building out of the bits and pieces of the enterprise that survived the war, a new, successful global organization that made an important contribution to the development of Third World countries. Not only did he provide jobs and a decent standard of living for thousands of Bata employees, but long before it was fashionable he opened up opportunities for education and advancement to people of all races and colours; he introduced them to modern technology and previously unknown standards of quality workmanship and he helped many of them to establish businesses of their own. He did all this through a culture founded above all on service - a genuine concern for the well-being of the Organizations staff, its customers and the communities in which it operates.

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