Tomáš Baťa (Czech pronunciation: [ˈtomaːʃ ˈ'baca]) (3 April 1876 in Zlín, Moravia – 12 July 1932) was a Czech entrepreneur, founder of the Bata Shoes company, one of the world's biggest multinational retailers, manufacturers and distributors of footwear and accessories.
Tomáš Baťa established the organization in Zlín on 24 August 1894 with 800 Austrian gulden, some $320, inherited from his mother. His brother Antonín Baťa and sister Anna were partners in the startup firm T. & A. Bata Shoe Company. Though the organization was newly established, the family had a long history of shoemaking, spanning eight generations and over three hundred years. This heritage helped boost the popularity of his new firm very quickly. In 1904 Baťa worked on an assembly line in the United States and brought his acquaintance with the method back to Zlín. With modern production and long distance retailing, Baťa modernized the shoemaking industry and the company surged ahead in production and profits right from its nascent years.
Eventually, Tomas Baťa obtained sole control over the company in 1908 after his brother Antonín Baťa died from tuberculosis. After Antonin's death, Tomas brought into the company two of his younger brothers, Jan and Bohuš into the business. World War I created a booming demand for military shoes, and the company quickly became one of the major contemporary footwear brands. During the interwar period Tomas Baťa again visited the New World to observe progress at the River Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Michigan. Upon his return the company began to look towards decentralizing operations. Baťa also exhibited his business acumen, with his initiatives towards producing low-cost shoes for the general public, whose purchasing power had been significantly reduced in the aftermath of the war. Factories and companies were set up in other countries including Poland, Yugoslavia, India, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, the United Kingdom and the United States. These factories were made self-sufficient and autonomous in their design, production and distribution strategies, in a move to focus them towards catering to the local population. By the early 1930s, under Tomas Bata's leadership the Baťa enterprise and Czechoslovakia were the world's leading footwear exporters.
Bata factory at Bataville, France, appr. 1940.
Bata factory at Bata-Park, Möhlin, Switzerland
Bata factory at Bata Estate, Tilbury, the United Kingdom.
The three Bata factories in line at Batadorp, Best, the Netherlands.
Bata factory at Batawa, Canada.
Baťa was regarded as an advocate of Taylorism, functionalism and a proponent of many aspects of the Garden city movement. Tomas Bata is credited with efforts to modernize his hometown providing the people with employment, and housing facilities, making him a very popular citizen in the town. He also became the mayor of Zlín. Tomas Baťa is also widely regarded as a businessman with an acute sense of social consciousness. He is quoted by many as one of the first pioneers of employee welfare and social advancement programs. Tomáš Baťa stated:
Let's bear in mind that the chances to multiply wealth are unlimited. All people can become rich. There is an error in our understandings - that all people cannot become equally rich. Wealth can not exist where the people are busy with mutual cheating, have no time for creating values and wealth. It is remarkable that we can find the greatest number of wealthy tradesmen and a population on a high standard of living in countries with a high level of business morality. On the other hand, we can find poor tradesmen and entrepreneurs and an impoverished population in countries with a low standard of business morality. This is natural because these people concentrate on cheating one another instead of trying to create value.
We are granting you the profit share not because we feel a need to give money to the people just out of the goodness of the heart. No, we are aiming at other goals by this step. By this measure we want to reach a further decrease of production costs. We want to reach the situation that the shoes are cheaper and workers earn even more. We think that our products are still too expensive and worker's salary too low.
Subsequent history of the company
Tomáš Baťa died in a plane crash (Junkers J13 D1608) in 1932 near the Zlín airport, trying to fly to Möhlin in Switzerland on a business trip under bad weather conditions (dense local fog). After his demise, his half-brother Jan Antonín Baťa took over ownership of the Bata companies and eventually fled to the United States due to the Nazi occupation in 1939, and later settled in Brazil.
Tomas' son Thomas J. Bata anticipating the Second World War along with over 100 families from Czechoslovakia moved to Canada in 1939 to develop the Bata Shoe Company of Canada centered in a town that still bears his name, Batawa, Ontario.
The Second World War saw many Bata businesses in Europe and the Far East destroyed. After the Second World War, the core business enterprise in Czechoslovakia and other major enterprises in Central and Eastern Europe were nationalized by the Communist governments. Thomas devoted himself to the rebuilding and growth of the Bata Shoe Organization together with his wife and partner Sonja. He successfully spearheaded ethical and innovative expansion into new markets throughout Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Under his leadership the Bata Shoe Organization experienced unprecedented growth and became the world's largest manufacturer and marketer of footwear selling over 300 million pairs of shoes each year and employing over 80,000 people.
Baťa's leadership for quality and innovation
In a scholarly study of Tomáš Baťa as a leader and business innovator Dr. Myron Tribus states:
When I first began this paper, I intended to demonstrate that what Baťa did is a superb illustration of what is now called "quality management". The record shows that Tomáš Baťa did indeed precede modern "quality management" practices by at least half a century. If we look only at that side of the man, we must conclude that he was the first to use quality as a way to lower cost at the same time as he created customer delight.
However, as I delved more deeply into Baťa's management methods, it became clear that looking at his work through such a lens gives much too narrow a focus. It is possible, of course, to analyze Baťa's work as an example of what W. Edwards Deming has called his "System of Profound Knowledge". However, the level of abstraction at which Dr. Deming describes this system makes it capable of encompassing many different activities and while it provides great generality, it does not provide a focus on what was unique about Baťa. I have chosen a less abstract approach, concentrating on the Baťa contributions I thought would be of greatest value in contemporary management. My objective is to find the most important lessons that the Baťa system of management can teach today's entrepreneurs.
Tomáš Baťa used 4 basic types of wages:
- Fixed rate - paid to a technical-operative and an administrative staff
- Individual order based rate - paid out to some manufacture specialists
- Collective task rate - defined for manufacture labour
- Profit contribution rate - received by operational managers
Also typical is so called "Baťa price" used to give a price ended almost always by number nine. Basically meaning that a price 99 or 19.99 looks apparently much better than rounded number such as 100 or 20, even though the difference is just 1 currency unit.
For Tomáš Baťa aviation was another branch of activity - his company was apparently the world's first one to regularly use aircraft for expedient transport of not only high-echelon staff, but in case of need also e.g. skilled workers to places where their skills were needed soon - so the primary aim was the timely deployment of manpower to the spot where it was needed, not creating luxurious "royal barges" for a few chosen. His brother Jan A. Bata founded the famous Zlin aircraft works two years after Tomáš Baťa's death, starting with simple gliders, but offering, in the 1930s to the eve of the World War II, several sophisticated types (e.g. the powered Zlín Z-XII, widely exported, and the Z-XIII, as well as some successful sailplanes) and even aero engines. The Moravan - Zlin factory is the direct descendant of Jan Bata's Czech aviation legacy.
- Musical revue, Ostrov Dynamit, 1930 (Dynamite Island) by Jiří Voskovec, Jan Werich, and the composer Jaroslav Ježek. This comedy satirized Tomáš Baťa as the villain Thomas Batha, who together with his Chinese servant Wu-Fang, exploit the natives of a tropical island in the South Pacific. The plot revolves around the magical powers of the island's volcano, which every fifty years erupts, releasing a beneficial gas that lulls the people into calm and docility. Batha is the only one unaffected, as he uses a gas mask hidden in a forest (the exact location of which, however, he is unable to find).
- Novel, Botostroj, 1933 (The Shoe-Machine) by Svatopluk Turek. This communist writer portrayed Tomáš Baťa as a strong-willed dictator who sacrificed himself and all people around for success of the company. After its release, Jan Bata sued for defamation and tried to stop further publishing. In 1954, Turek's novel was turned into a movie of the same name, made by director K.M. Walló.
- Bata is extensively portrayed in Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy, but called the "Praha" (Prague) Show Company.