Bata is synonymous with school shoes and Bata pricing (Rs. 99 pricing) in India. However, not many know that company’s roots actually lie in Eastern Europe – in fact, the Indian operations were actually set up by chance. Czech pioneers arrived in India in the 1920s to source raw materials but decided to stay because they saw an opportunity for the company. Let us look at Bata’s wonderful history over the last 12+ decades.
Bata was established in 1894 in Austria-Hungary (now Czech Republic) by Tomas Bata with 10 employees. By 1912, the company had grown to 600+ employees. This phenomenal growth was further accelerated by the increased demand during World War 1.
The recession that followed WW1 was disastrous for Czech Republic – the currency devalued by over 75%, completely killing the demand for goods. While most shoemakers perished, Tomas Bata had other plans. He slashed his prices to half and convinced employees to accept a 40% lower salary in exchange for a share of the company’s profits to reduce costs. This was one of the first profit-sharing incentives ever.
Tomas Bata strongly believed that a company’s goal is the betterment of the society. In that spirit, he devised an ingenious international growth model – Batavilles.
In the countries that Bata expanded to, it set up towns around the factories for their workers to start families in. Check out the documentary Batalives produced by Česká televize to learn more about these towns. Here is a list of many such establishments (Batavilles):
“Batadorp in the Netherlands, Baťovany (present-day Partizánske) and Svit in Slovakia, Baťov (now Bahňák, part of Otrokovice) in the Czech Republic, Borovo-Bata (now Borovo Naselje, part of Vukovar in Croatia then in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia), Bata Park in Möhlin, Switzerland, Bataville in Lorraine, France, Batawa (Ontario) in Canada, Batatuba (São Paulo), Batayporã and Bataguassu (Mato Grosso do Sul) in Brazil. East Tilbury in Essex, England, Batapur in Pakistan and Batanagar and Bataganj in India.”Wikipedia
In the end, Bata emerged as a vertically integrated firm – they manufactured their own rubber, leather (tanning), fabrics, chemicals, shoe shine, paper pulp and cardboard, covering everything from raw materials to packaging. They even operated an energy plant and engaged in farming activities for their power and food requirements. It is not surprising that Bata was termed as the shoemaker to the world.
The other side of the coin:
While the growth has been extraordinary, Bata has had its fair share of controversies too. The founder was labeled a traitor and sentenced to 15 years in prison because he fled his country during WW2. The company has often had their factories seized by nationalist and authoritarian regimes in Asia and Africa. As a result, Bata today has a complex and secretive corporate structure with very little reporting unless absolutely necessary, indicating the owning family’s desire to avoid limelight.
To learn more about Bata’s history and their global operations, head out to http://world.tomasbata.org/, a portal set up by Bata Information Center at Tomas Bata University in Zlin.
One thought on “Bata: shoemaker to the world”
LikeLiked by 1 person