Latest News

He almost went bankrupt, trying to save time cost him his life. Bať’s empire celebrates 130 years – 2024-05-13 01:36:43

From an ordinary cobbler, he worked his way up to the king of the shoe industry. He raised the interchangeable Wallachian small town to a modern industrial metropolis. In September, 130 years will pass since Tomáš Baťa laid the foundations of his business empire. The story of the company is well illustrated by the architectural landmarks that they and their half-brother Jan Antonín left behind in their native Zlín. Let’s follow in their footsteps.

We are standing in a modest office overlooking the garden. There is a typewriter and a landline on the table. The heavy work boots displayed on the dresser and the city bike, which used to be the most used means of transport in Zlín, Baťov, also remind of the old days. The founder of the shoe company himself looks down on visitors from a large photo on the back wall, and he is also depicted in other pictures plastered on the walls. At the same time, when Tomáš Baťa still used his study, he did not have any portraits hanging in it. Although he worked his way up from being a cobbler to one of the 100 richest people in the world, he didn’t take too long for self-presentation.

Related Articles

“It is said that he used to have only a table and two chairs in his office, so that people would pay maximum attention to him during meetings and not wander around, perhaps because they were bored,” says the director of the Tomáš Bata Foundation, Gabriela Končitíková. A funny joke is also connected with the aforementioned photo portrait. “When he asked his wife Marie how he looked, she told him that his tie was crooked again. Tomáš Baťa is said to have answered her: ‘Mánička, I am not a hochstapler, but a cobbler, people will forgive me,’” Končitíková recounts. Even the villa in which the office is located was not at all megalomaniacal in its time, although from today’s point of view, the art deco style can seem opulent.

Although the house was originally designed by Vizovice builder František Novák, architect Jan Kotěra also left a significant mark on it. Tourists can find it in the Čepkov district, on the banks of the Dřevnice river. Baťa deliberately had it built right across from the first factory hall, where he also used to have a small apartment. “He bought the land under the pressure of his sisters, who repeatedly warned him that no normal woman would come to live with him in the factory. From the beginning, he demanded that every window of the villa be visible to the factory. The people of Bať were able to build an ordinary four-story factory building in 28 days, whereas the villa was built for five years. It was only built when Tomáš Baťa met his wife,” points out Končitíková.

When Tomáš Baťa still used his study, he did not have any portraits hanging in it. He didn’t take much time for self-presentation. | Photo: Dominik Bachůrek

The masterpiece was not the shoes, but the concrete

According to her, the shoe company’s greatest masterpiece was not the shoes, but the quick-hardening concrete mixture. The construction of industrial buildings was also accelerated by universal modules with dimensions of six meters and fifteen centimeters, which were assembled like Lego. The foundations of Bať’s villa were laid in 1909, when he was still a relatively unknown industrialist. “He started his business 130 years ago. He thought that if he dressed well and met the right people, it would work itself out. After the first year, however, he ended up with an almost tenfold loss. He realized that bankruptcy meant social death, so he gradually learned that the work must be divided, everyone must know the entire production process, but at the same time be a specialist in one thing,” explains Končitíková.

On the contrary, it was Marie Baťová who refined the household. She decorated the interior of the villa with a number of paintings, statuettes, vases or carpets. “After 1945, however, most of the original equipment was stolen. We could count the things that were returned on the fingers of two hands. Fortunately, the villa itself survived in a relatively pristine condition, mainly thanks to the fact that it used to be a pioneer house during the totalitarian regime. When Tomáš Baťa junior got back after the Velvet Revolution, he wasn’t even that surprised to find a terrarium with iguanas and snakes in the former conservatory. He was rather shocked when he entered his nursery for the first time after fifty years and the first thing he came across was a bust of Klement Gottwald.” smiles Jakub Malovaný – PR manager of the Tomáš Bata Foundation, which is located in the building today.

The founding father did not live to see the nationalization of his company. He died in a plane crash in July 1932. We are therefore moving to the Tomáš Bata Memorial above TG Masaryk Square, which was opened only a year after the tragic event. It was designed by Kotěr’s student František Lýdie Gahura and belongs to the pinnacle of Zlín functionalism. Similar to factory buildings, it is made up of blocks of universal dimensions, which Tomáš Baťa observed during his visit to the United States, when he saw the standardization in Henry Ford’s plants. During the totalitarian regime, it was rebuilt into a concert hall and gallery, returned to its original form only in the new millennium, and has been reopened to the public for the past five years.

The Tomáš Bata monument was designed by František Lýdie Gahura and projected into it the entrepreneur’s character traits – generosity, take-off, clarity and simplicity. | Photo: Statutory city of Zlín

Generosity, take-off, clarity and simplicity

Gahura projected the main character traits of Tomáš Bata into the building – generosity, take-off, clarity and simplicity. “Generosity is evident as soon as you enter the two-story airy space. The architect also spoke about it in connection with the materials used – concrete, glass and iron. The fact that we all automatically look up is a testament to the building’s loftiness. Gahura chose primarily vertical elements, among other things, he achieved clarity by replacing the typical Zlín brick with stained glass, which allows us to see outside, but at the same time not be disturbed by what is happening there lamps, the floor is not made of marble, but of colored concrete, we cannot find air conditioning or heating,” explains the director of the Tomáš Bata Memorial, Magdaléna Hladká.

A replica of the German Junkers F13 plane, in which Tomáš Baťa and his pilot Jindřich Brouček crashed, hovers above the visitors’ heads. In the early 1930s, aviation was more of an adrenaline sport than a regular mode of transportation. However, Zlín was cut off from the main railway routes and the entrepreneur needed to quickly reach meetings all over Europe. Once, despite the fog, he persisted on his way to Switzerland, but he underestimated the weather and fell to the ground right outside Otrokovice. The effort to save time cost him his life, and Bať’s watch, which is also now on display in the premises, carries a sad symbolism.

The industrialist’s funeral was already proof of the efficient use of time in the Baťa company. “One would expect that everything would stop and there would be a day of mourning. But in Zlín, the workers went to work normally, they were at the machines all morning, then they ran home to get ready and arrived at the ceremony at three o’clock,” recounts Hladká. The management of the company came up with an even more cunning solution when the memorial to the late boss was being opened. “At that time, they planned the grand opening for the time when the accident occurred, i.e. before six o’clock in the morning. Nevertheless, the so-called Gahur Avenue under the building was completely full,” adds Hladká. At that time, Tomáš’s half-brother Jan Antonín was already running the company.

Skyscraper number 21, which was built by Jan Antonín Baťa in the second half of the 1930s, became famous as a mobile office.  Today, it is not the director, but tourists.

Skyscraper number 21, which was built by Jan Antonín Baťa in the second half of the 1930s, became famous as a mobile office. Today, it is not the director, but tourists. | Photo: Statutory city of Zlín

High salary but strict control

So let’s move to the famous skyscraper number 21, which was built between 1936 and 1938 according to the design of the architect Vladimír Karfík as the new headquarters of the company. “At that time, the company became the largest manufacturer of leather footwear in the world. It employed approximately sixty thousand people on different continents, in Czechoslovakia alone it had over two thousand stores, it had its own machine shops, tanneries, hosiery factories, paper mills and film studios. The twenty-one-year-old was sixteen at the time floors of the highest domestic administrative building. Five months were spent waiting for a building permit, and in another eight months its skeleton was already standing,” mentions Silvie Lečíková from the Museum of Southeast Moravia.

According to company records, up to 160,000 people applied for employment at Bata in the second half of the 1930s. They were attracted by the financial reward, even the workers at the company received a third higher salary than the European average. “Nevertheless, they had to really earn their place and also undergo very rigorous control. The company claimed the right to monitor your personal life in unimaginable detail. It kept track of who you are friends with, where you go in your free time and whether you drink too much,” he points out. Lečíková. In this context, it is suggested to mention the legend associated with the director’s elevator, in which Jan Antonín Baťa was supposed to drive between the individual floors and monitor whether the employees were diligent enough.

“Of course, as you can see, the light indicators are located inside and outside. In addition, the elevator jingles every time it stops,” Lečíková questions the myth of overflow checks, while the five-ton, five-by-five-meter mobile office is set in motion. “To this day, there is still a question mark over whether Jan Antonín ever rode the elevator at all. Bad language people claim that in Europe, before his emigration, it was not possible to find a machine shop strong enough to tighten the elevator. However, Mrs. Dolores Baťa told me that she saw a photograph, on which her grandfather is sitting in the elevator. I myself am convinced that even if fifty guys were to lift him on a rope, Jan Antonín would have gone through the elevator at least once,” laughs Lečíková.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button