Transitional Economic Systems: The Polish-Czech Example

By Dorothy W. Douglas | Go to book overview
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Thomas Bat'a 1

T o a Czech twenty years ago Thomas Bat'a would have represented much the same achievements that Henry Ford did to Americans. And the Bat'a shoe concern would have meant far more than the Ford empire ever did to its country, because of Czechoslovakia's small size and because Bat'a had so utterly outdistanced his competitors. To see what happened to this highly efficient industry under nationalization is therefore interesting, the more so since it presents in most acute form Czechoslovakia's dominant problem of exports.

Like Ford, Thomas Bat'a began single-handed and without capital. The son of a shoemaker, at the age of eighteen in the year 1894 he formed a 'company' in the remote country town of Zlin in the border region of Moravia near Slovakia, with his sister and brother to help him. He was said to have travelled with ten to fifteen pairs of shoes a week to provincial city markets. He knew nothing of business and became involved in debt in two years. By 1901 he had recovered and realized about 2,000 guilders (£330). He had read of machinery and determined to master the new methods and apply them in his native region where he could take advantage of a cheap labour force. In 1904, accordingly, at the age of twenty-eight, he went to the United States and worked as an ordinary labourer at a shoe factory in Lynn. When he came back he at once started a steam-driven factory with fifty employees and produced 1,000 pairs of shoes a week. By 1910 he employed 1,500 hands. (Zlin at this time had only 3,600 inhabitants altogether.) After this his business expanded rapidly and spread into many related fields. By the time of his death in 1932 his home

The writer does not claim accuracy for the biographical accounts of Thomas Bat'a and his family. They were drawn primarily from interviews with and memoranda submitted by various of Bat'a's former employees.


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