The Bata Region


Who was who in the Bata family?

When Tomas, Antonín and Anna Bata founded a shoemaking workshop in Zlín in 1894, it was just a small town on the periphery of Moravia region. A few years later, Zlín became a modern city of perfectly thought-out architecture, naturally blending in with a perfectly functioning factory located literally in the gardens. Who was at the birth of the whole Bata empire?

Antonín Bata Sr.: the one who raised future factory owners

The siblings Anna, Antonín and Tomas Bata were born into the shoemaker family of Antonín and Anna Bata. At the end of the 19th century, Zlín was a place where shoemaking thrived, but mostly only in small workshops, where each shoemaker sat alone at their own stool. Antonín Bata Sr. was a business-oriented person from a very young age. He was a shoemaker, sewing felt slippers. He was one of the first to make leather shoes with wooden pegs nails, and he encouraged his children to be business-oriented from an early age.

"You can tell a craftsman by his tools. If it's too nice, he didn't do much with it. If his tools are in a mess, he's in a mess too."
(Antonín Bata Sr. in The Novel of Life by Jan Antonín Bata)

When the children's mother died in 1884, Antonín Bata Sr. remarried. He married Ludmila Hrušťáková from Osvětimany. He moved to Uherské Hradiště, which was then a much richer region than Zlín. The Bata family started trading in fruit and confectionery, and producing sodas, which they sold at fairs. However, Antonín Bata Sr. did not give up his craft and soon opened his first shoemaking business in Uherské Hradiště. It already had many conveniences unprecedented for that time. It consisted of several houses with special workshops that specialised in a particular part of production, using Ringschiefer and Singer machines. The employees worked from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and earned 7 Rheinish gulden a week.

And what were the future factory owners in charge of? The eldest son Antonín Bata took care of budgeting and running the workshops, while Tomas Bata was responsible for sales at markets in the town and its surroundings. However, Tomas was curious to learn more and often ran away to gain experience. He went to the Fäber factory in Prostějov, but was fired because they feared the competition. Later, he went to his sister Anna in Vienna and with her help he started working on his own. By then, he was about to start his own business in Zlín.

Antonín Bata Jr.: the one who founded the first business

To make things more confusing, Antonín Bata named his eldest son after himself (and to make things even more confusing, his second son changed his original name Jan Karel in honour of his father to Jan Antonín – but more on that later). The first ever Bata Company in Zlín was founded by Antonin Bata Jr. in 1894, at a time when the other siblings were not yet of age. The young entrepreneurs chose Zlín because the councillors in Uherské Hradiště did not allow them to run a shoemaking business in the town. In 1900, the T. & A. Bata Company was already registered in the trade register and was jointly managed by Antonín Bata, Anna Bata and the youngest of the three siblings – Tomas Bata. In 1906, Antonín Bata Jr. contracted tuberculosis and died of the insidious disease two years later.

Anna Schiebel (born Bata): the one who was good with numbers

The oldest of siblings was Anna, who was born on 19 May 1872 in Zlín. Until her marriage, she was mainly responsible for the financial health of the newly founded company. She supervised the economy and accounting of the company, made sure that money was not wasted but managed conceptually. In 1898, she married Jindřich Schiebel, an estate manager in Lukov. They lived in Kroměříž and raised 3 children. Anna died of cancer in 1936 and outlived her younger brother Tomas by only 5 years.

Tomas Bata: the big boss

The courage to do things differently was instilled in Bata siblings from a young age thanks to their father, who was never afraid to try new things. But it was the youngest one, Tomas Bata, who made his mark on history. Their small, newly founded company struggled with debts in the first years, but with clever and courageous steps, it eventually grew not only into a shoe empire, but also into a system of business management that was transferred to the whole world. And along with it, the concept of planned cities, schools and services that complemented the Bata factories in a modern symbiosis.

"Soon, the work had taken complete control over me. All the blessings of my life began on that day. I understood my foolishness in imitating lazy people, whether they were gentlemen or not. By performing all the labourer's tasks, I found ways that led to saving materials and simplifying the worker's job... I carried raw materials on my back from the Otrokovice station from the midnight train, ten kilometres from Zlín. I immediately cut the material with one colleague and handed it over to other workers in the morning. The workers worked day and night until the job was done. Then they slept, and I went at night to deliver the goods, to bring new raw materials and money for the payroll... I bought the material myself, cut or sliced it myself, distributed it among the workers myself, received and inspected each pair myself, paid the workers myself, and did all the bookkeeping and accounting myself..."
(Tomas Bata)

The life and work of Tomas Bata is promoted by the Tomas Bata Foundation. The Foundation focuses on the use of the legacy of Tomas Bata in the present. It is based in the Bata Villa, where it organises the Bata Academy, tours of the Villa, lectures of the Bata Philosophy. The Foundation also publishes books and supports cultural life in Zlín.

When the small company was successfully established and stabilised, Tomas Bata went to America in 1905 to gain experience. He believed he could acquire the best expertise and know-how there to use in Zlín for organising work and lives of his employees. He brought back plans for modern manufacturing buildings and a passion for American management styles and all things American. He started organising workshops, implementing assembly line production, and charging workers for poorly done work. After his brother's death, Tomas called his half-brother Jan Antonín Bata from Uherské Hradiště into the family business. Jan Antonín later took on a leading role in the entire company, along with Dominik Čipera and Hugo Vavrečka.

By the end of World War I, the Bata Company was producing 6,000 pairs of shoes daily, processing its own raw materials for production, and opening its first stores in Zlín, Prague, Liberec, Vienna, and other cities. Immediately after the war, when the markets of war-torn countries were struggling, Bata reduced wages but compensated workers with supplies of food and clothing. This enabled him to get the entire factory back on its feet and develop the ideas he had in mind. In Zlín, not only did a complex of factory buildings arise, but also workers' houses, schools, dormitories, cinemas, department stores, and all other infrastructure that a modern city needed. In 1921–1924 Bata applied a similar model in building cities and factories around the world.

Tomas Bata died on 12 July 1932, at the age of 56, in a plane crash just a short distance from Otrokovice Airport, from where he was departing for Switzerland to open a new branch of the company. In his honour, the Tomas Bata Memorial was built in Zlín. With its elegant simplicity, it reminds us of the values of the Bata Company.

Jan Antonín Bata: the factory owner with rolled-up sleeves

After the death of Tomas Bata, his half-brother Jan Antonín became the majority shareholder of the shoe manufacturing company, which at that time was operating in several countries around the world.

"Self-confidence is a wonderful thing. In our young men in Zlín, we cultivate it almost scientifically. Of course, there are different types of self-confidence. Ours in Zlín is: I can do it, I can succeed, I will do it, I will persevere, I will succeed."
(Jan Antonín Bata)

Despite having numerous disagreements with his brother Tomas and briefly leaving the company in 1928, he too had ideas that others wouldn't dare to express, let alone implement. He helped complete the construction of the Baťov district in the nearby town of Otrokovice, which boasted a number of technical innovations. He built the Bata Canal, connecting Otrokovice with lignite mines in Ratíškovice in South Moravia. He built the Bata Skyscraper, which remains an admirable structure to this day. During this period, the Bata Company registered over 100 patents, and Jan Antonín published the book "Building a State for 40,000,000 People," contemplating the perfect organisation of infrastructure and society for a similar project.

The legacy of Jan Antonín Bata is promoted by the Jan Antonín Bata Foundation, which is based in Uherské Hradiště in a house that once belonged to the Bata family.

His activities at home and abroad were interrupted by World War II, during which tensions gradually escalated not only within the company but also in relations with the Czechoslovak government-in-exile. J. A. Bata left occupied Czechoslovakia in the summer of 1939, partly prompted by the company management, under the pretext of attending the World's Fair in New York. Meanwhile, the Nazis pressured the company management in an attempt to confiscate the factory. Therefore, the company's directors Dominik Čipera, Josef Hlavnička, František Malota and Hugo Vavrečka agreed with Marie Bata (the widow of Tomas Bata) to transfer 60% of the shares to their names to prevent the confiscation.

Jan Antonín Bata obtained Brazilian citizenship and settled in South America, where he founded several shoe and manufacturing companies and built cities modelled after Zlín. Among them were Batatuba, Indiana SP, Mariapolis, Bataguassu, and Batayporã. To this day, Bata's architectural influences are still evident there. He died on 23 August 1965, in Batatuba, Brazil.

"Victory belongs to those who have developed the character to endure, who can not only come up with good ideas but also bring them to fruition."
(Jan Antonín Bata)

Tomas Jan Bata: the only son of Tomas and Marie Bata

Tomík or Tomas Bata Jr. No one called the only son of Tomas Bata by any other name. Tomas Jan Bata was born in 1914 in Prague and grew up in Zlín surrounded by the Batamen. From a young age, his father was raising him to take over the company one day. 

After attending schools in England and Switzerland, young Tomas began his training as a shoemaker at the Bata School of Labour for young men in Zlín. He helped establish a new Bata factory in Switzerland and was also awaiting his father's inspection visit for the opening of a new branch in Möhlin. At barely 18 years old, Tomas had no plans to return to Czechoslovakia. On the contrary, he wanted to travel and settle in North America. It was during a planned visit to the new branch in Switzerland that Tomas Bata Sr. died during the takeoff of his plane over the Otrokovice airport.

In 1939, after gaining experience in Zlín and Zurich, Tomas Jan Bata travelled to Canada to establish a new branch of the company. This was at a time when the Nazis were beginning to expand in Europe. Young Tomas faced a daunting task, as (not only) the factories in Zlín were taken over by the Germans, and he had no choice but to run the Canadian branches according to his own judgement and discretion. 

Under his leadership, the Bata Company achieved its greatest expansion worldwide. In 1984, it produced 220 million pairs of shoes and became the world's largest shoe company with 90 factories and 5,000 stores worldwide. That year, he handed over the management of the company to his son Thomas George Bata (b. 1949).

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