Baťa: the Story Behind the Shoe

The steps to success by Czech Republic's favorite shoes

A well known company around the world, Baťa's roots are firmly planted in Czech soil. For 122 years the family-owned company rose to success withstanding wars, exile and occupation. Together with his two siblings, Tomáš Baťa started a shoe company on August 24th 1894 using inheritance money. The small city of Zlín thus became home to a large shoe manufacturing establishments, one of the first of its kind in the world. Tomáš didn’t become King of Shoes overnight, but in just 10 years the company began producing 2,200 pairs of shoes a day. By 1917 they sold around two million shoes a year.

Baťa’s story, however, doesn’t just center on pretty shoes. From the very beginning, Tomáš had a clear vision for the company: it was supposed to serve the public. The public included Baťa’s employees who benefited from the company’s many innovations. In 1912 Tomáš initiated the building of houses for employees to ensure affordable housing near the factories. In 1925 he launched BŠP (Baťa’s School of Work) for young men and in 1929 a school for young women.

It wasn’t just the employees who were satisfied; Baťa’s success had a great impact on Zlín. In 1923 Tomáš was elected Mayor (later re-elected in 1927 and 1931). Not even the crisis following the First World War could stop his success. Once it got to the point where people could barely afford food, Tomáš made a bold move and cut shoe prices by 50% at the expense of cutting salaries by 40%. The employees happily agreed to this in exchange for having half of their living costs compensated by the company. Not only did this help support his employees through rough times, Baťa managed to sell 99,000 pairs of shoes for 8.1 million CZK in just one single day.

During the year before his death Zlín experienced some major urban developments: nine new factory buildings, an administrative building, two warehouses, a gas plant, a department store, six boarding schools and 448 family houses. Following Tomáš’s death on June 12th 1932, his brother Jan Antonín Baťa took over the company with the hopes of eventually handing over leadership to Tomáš’s son Tomik.

Named after his father, Tomik used a nickname while he lived up to fill his father’s shoes. Tomik (Tomáš Junior) grew up learning foreign languages, gaining management experience and learning how to do every single job in the company (from selling shoes outside the factory to production to leadership) as was common practice for future management.

Tomik continued his father’s four-salary approach. This meant that employees got a fixed salary, an individual piecework wage (paid based on individually completed tasks), a group piecework wage (based on team effort) and finally they shared a percentage of the profit. The percentage deal went both ways, if the company suffered then top management would receive proportional deductions. This system was great at motivating employees to do their best and insisted on rewarding hard work.

The Second World War forced 26-year-old Tomik to move to Canada. He founded Bata Shoe Organization in Toronto in 1940. Back in Europe Baťa suffered a bombing in 1944 and then the company was nationalized under Communism in 1945. In Canada on the other hand, the company gained fame as they rose to success. When the UK joined the war, its former colony Canada began using Baťa factories to produce weapon parts and torpedoes for the Allies. Tomik, who had long stopped using his childhood nickname, was a captain in the Canadian army and had the honor to accompany the new Ambassador to Prague after the war.

As Pavel Hajný so eloquently writes on Baťa’s website, Tomik finally returned to Zlín at the end of 1989. After years of isolation and fruitless rejection by the regime, he became a symbol of Czech success once again. He was one of the first exiled people to return to his home town and he held a speech in the main square of Zlín. The excited crowd packed the square experiencing nostalgia as they looked up at the smiling gray-haired man before them: it was just as if the late Tomáš Baťa was once again among them.

In 2001 Tomáš Baťa Junior’s son, Thomas George Bata, took over leadership of the company. His father passed away in 2008 at the age of 93. Today Baťa serves one million customers on a daily basis, employs 40,000+ people, and sells shoes in over 5,000 Baťa stores in more than 50 countries. Annually, they produce approximately 150 million pairs of shoes.

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