March - April 2002   
  Vol. 2 No.2   
Know Your Founders Of Enduring Interest Corporate Commentary Back to Main Page Editorial

Shoemaker As National Hero

When Thomas Bata, heir apparent to the Bata empire, was four years old, his parents gave him a miniature shoemaker’s bench as a Christmas present. “It was a perfect replica of a real thing,?writes Thomas Bata in his extremely readable autobiography, Bata: Shoemaker To The World, “a table with compartments for nails, tacks and other shoemaking paraphernalia, along with a little stool for me to sit on and a leather strap that helped shoemakers hold the shoes they were working on between their knees. In the past, I am told, the strap also served as a tool for administering punishment to the backsides of recalcitrant apprentices.?/p>

Shoemaker As National Hero


For Thomas it wasn’t ever a question of taking any job other than a shoemaker’s. It wasn’t only that Batas had been in the business for nine generations or even that in Europe, as in other parts of the world, it was considered a matter of course for a son to step into his father’s shoes: “More than that it was my father’s energy, his enthusiasm, his sense of mission that made me look up to him as a role model. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, my main ambition was to live up to his standards and to grow up to be like him.?br>
Thomas’s parents too took the utmost care in training him to undertake his responsibilities. They planned his education extremely carefully, making special efforts to ensure that he was “neither spoiled nor conceited.?For example, he was expected to keep his room tidy, perform certain household chores and they even kept an eye on how he spent his meagre pocket money. They also made it clear to him that just because he was his father’s son, he shouldn’t take his job for granted. He’d have to prove himself in order to qualify for a reasonable position in the Company, let alone as heir apparent. Thomas quotes his father as having once stated in a magazine article: “I have a thousand sons, though only one of them bears my name; and the best one of them all will inherit my violin.?In other words, there was to be nothing automatic about the succession.

When he was 15, Thomas had to undergo an intensive training programme in the factory, while at the same time attending night and weekend classes on subjects like Chemistry, Marketing and Technology. In fact, on joining the factory his father put him to the extreme test of making him work on the assembly line, performing the same operation not for a limited time and at a leisurely pace, but at full speed for eight hours a day. The job given to him was the sidelasting of men’s Goodyear welt shoes. In this operation, Thomas recalls, leather was wrapped around a foot-shaped block called a last, which determines the shape of the shoe: “In those days the operator had to hold the shoe and the wooden last in his hands while a machine drove in twenty tacks per shoe, forty per pair. The last weighed at least half a kilogram, the resistance was considerable and I had to do 500 pairs a day, so it was a tough job that was normally reserved for mature workers at least twenty-one years of age. But it was also the one that was best paid.?br>
Another early lesson was to realise that “the customer is king? Thomas confesses that he did have some difficulty adjusting himself to the decidedly unsophisticated boys and girls who frequented the shop. But in course of time he overcame his reluctance and began to enjoy the job thoroughly.

As a young man, Thomas had to travel widely, supervising Bata stores in several countries. It was in one such place, Tunis, that the local Bata personnel came to meet Thomas and his wife Sonja at the airport, bringing along with them a poster they had designed. It featured a family with three or four children, each carrying a shoe-box and a caption that read ?i>Pas un pas sans Bata?(“Not A Step Without Bata?. Thomas felt that no advertising agency could have come up with a better marketing tool. Indeed, this slogan became a kind of Bata trademark throughout the French-speaking world. Thomas fondly recalls how flight attendants who noticed his name on the passenger list would occasionally come up to him smilingly to greet him: ?i>Ah, Monsieur Bata, pas un pas sans Bata.?/font>

It was in 1932 when Thomas was abroad that he got an urgent telegram telling him that his father had had a serious accident and to come home immediately. On reaching home, Thomas was informed that his father had been killed in an aircraft crash. The date was July 12, 1932. Shockingly, human nature being what it is, nasty rumours were spread that linked his father’s death to the Depression then prevailing and speculating that he might have committed suicide rather than watch his enterprise go down the drain. Actually,Thomas proudly recalls that the business was in great shape.

The next day he went to the hospital where his father’s body lay. The hospital director ordered the coffin which had been soldered shut to be reopened to enable Thomas to pay his last respects to the man whose qualities he had tried all his life to imbibe. He recalled the eulogy written by the well-known journalist, H.R. Knickerbocker: “Every nation has its heroes; the Czech nation’s hero was a shoemaker.?/font>

Not an ordinary shoemaker but one who considered his business as a public trust: “We were motivated by the knowledge that our enterprise was providing an entire region with new, previously unknown advantages, that its growth was contributing to the wealth and the education of the nation.?br>
He also warned that any successor who failed to abide by that philosophy would prove unworthy of his legacy. As Thomas watched his father’s casket being lowered into the grave, he murmured to himself, “I promise.?br>
Courtesy: “BATA, Shoemaker To The World?by Thomas J. Bata with Sonja Sinclair, published by Stoddart Publishing Co. Limited, Toronto, Canada.

Biggest Lies
# I’m from your Government, and I am here to help you.
# My wife doesn’t understand me.
# Trust me, I’ll take care of everything.
# Don’t worry, I can go another 30 kilometres when the gauge is on     ‘‘empty’’.
              # I’ll call you later.
              # It’s not the money, it’s the principle of the thing.