Monday, September 01, 2008
Thomas Baťa Jr (1914-2008)
Thomas J. Baťa, a former Czech Canadian shoe tycoon, died at the age of almost 94. He was the son of Tomáš Baťa (1876-1932), the founder of the shoe company, and he has been the boss of the corporation since the 1940s till the 1980s.
Tomáš Baťa, the founder, established the company in Zlín (later temporarily called Gottwaldov, after Gottwald, the Czech counterpart of Stalin) in 1894. The family had a long tradition of shoemaking but Tomáš Baťa promoted their craft to an advanced, full-fledged capitalist corporation that was extraordinarily flourishing during the "first republic" (Czechoslovakia between its birth in 1918 and 1938, the Munich Treaty).
The company had a lot of "social infrastructure", providing its employees with all kinds of services, including entertainment. Baťa also invented the "Baťian prices", as we call the numbers like "Kč 9.90" or "USD 9.98" in Czechia. Well, at least in the Central European context, he invented them.
The founder died in a plane crash in 1932 and his half-brother, Jan Antonín Baťa, took over the company. It turned out that Jan Antonín Baťa was highly compatible with the Nazi regime during the war, to put it mildly. He may have even suggested an improvement of a German project to move the Czech nation to Siberia: he proposed Patagonia (Southern Argentina) instead. ;-)
These subtleties have made it much easier for the communists to expel him from the homeland and steal all the factories from him after the war - but they stole everything else, too. (Very recently, a few months ago, Jan Antonín Baťa was fully rehabilitated: see fast comments for a discussion of his record.)
Nevertheless, his young nephew, Thomas Baťa Jr, the son of the founder, was already ready to lead the company (after some arguments between these two Gentlemen). He has transformed it into a truly powerful trans-national corporation, perhaps the main symbol of a global Czech entrepreneurial success. (Ray Kroc, the somewhat nastier de facto founder of McDonald's, was a Czech American, but he wasn't a real Czech himself.)
When Baťa Jr returned to Czechoslovakia after the fall of communism in 1989, he became a new source of energy and inspiration for the newly born capitalist country. He will be missed.