India loses friend as Bata Shoe Co owner is dead

September 2nd, 2008 - 8:51 am ICT by IANS  

Toronto, Sep 2 (IANS) Thomas Bata, owner of the family-owned world-famous shoe company, died here Monday. A great friend of India, Bata was 93. A spokesman for the Toronto-based global shoe giant said Bata died at the city’s Sunnybrook Hospital, without giving any cause of death.

Bata guided the 114-year-old company’s global operations from the 1940s to the late 1980s.

Currently, his son Thomas George Bata heads the company which has more than 5,000 retail stores in more than 50 countries. It claims to serve one million customers globally each day.

The company says it employs over 40,000 people at its 40 production facilities in more than two dozen countries.

Bata’s cobbler father, Tomas Bata, started his shoe-making operations under the Bata name in the city of Zlin in then Czechoslovakia in 1894. A ninth-generation cobbler, Tomas successfully turned his small shoe company into a giant he named Bata Shoe Organization before he died in an air crash in 1932.

Thomas Bata, who took over the company, had to abandon his business and flee to Canada in 1938 under the Nazi onslaught.

When he returned to his native country after its liberation in 1945, the communists took over and seized the Bata Shoe Company as it symbolized capitalism for them.

Thomas Bata returned to Canada to recommence his shoe operations, and make Bata a global name.

When communism fell in Czechoslovakia and Vaclav Havel took over in 1989, he was invited back to his native country, but he refused. He visited his birthplace in 1991 and was given the top Czech award, the Tomas Garrigue Masaryk Order, by Vaclav.

Paying tributes to him, the current Czech Republic president Vaclav Klaus said Bata was “one of the greatest personalities of our time.

“Despite ill fortune in his homeland, he managed to succeed in the world and became for us a symbol of business success. We will all miss him.”

Kam Rathee, president of the Canada-India Business Council (C-IBC) which Bata formed 26 years ago, said, “In Thomas Tata’s death, India has lost a great friend. He wanted more and more Canadian groups to do business with India, and that’s why he formed set up the C-IBC.

“Bata India is very successful, and Mr Bata used to visit India five to six times a year. In fact, they are also doing very well in real estate in India now.”

Bata served as chairman emeritus of the C-IBC which conferred its Lifetime Achievement Award on him last year.

“Since the Bata company has been in India since 1931 and become a known name, Indians think it is an Indian company. Mr Bata himself would himself joke about it,” said Rathee.

Bata is survived by his wife Sonja, a son and three daughters. Sonja has been instrumental in setting up the monumental Bata Shoe Museum here. It traces the 4,500-year-old history of shoe wearing.

The Bata museum features some breathtaking items such as the diamond-studded slippers of Nizam of Hyderabad, worth $140,000, and pony-skin boots of Picasso.

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