Home Economy Bata set up two world-class factories in Bihar

Bata set up two world-class factories in Bihar

By Arvind Padmanabhan, IANS,

New Delhi : Thomas Bata, the patriarch of the global shoe company who died in Toronto Monday, was passionate about India and even held the global board meeting of his group at Batanagar in West Bengal earlier this year and set up two world-class factories in Bihar.

The 93-year-old soft-spoken entrepreneur, who led the Bata Shoe Company’s growth for the past seven decades, was also the man responsible for making his company household brand in India’s footwear industry, recollect his friends and associates.

“His passion for India had even driven him to hold the international board meet of the Bata organisation in Batanagar in Kolkata earlier this year,” said P.M Sinha, the non-executive chairman of Bata India.

“He also visited Bihar thereafter to set up two world class factories for his group. The success of Bata in India, which has become synonymous with the Indian shoe industry, goes to him,” Sinha told IANS.

The two factories are at Mokamehghat and Bataganj.

Bata, who often called himself a ninth-generation cobbler, set up his first factory in India at Konanagar near Kolkata in 1931 – a time when footwear was produced mainly as handicraft by micro units.

Today, his shoe company in India, incorporated as Bata Shoe Company Private Limited that went public in 1973 and changed its name to Bata India Limited, is celebrating its platinum jubilee.

The Canadian arm of the organisation still holds 51 percent equity in Bata’s India operations, even though the management is professionally run.

A regular visit to Davos in Switzerland with his wife, Sonja, for the annual summit of the World Economic Forum (WEF), he would often hang around with the Indian delegation and never miss their parties, particularly for the curries.

“I have known Tom for more than 20 years. He had tremendous love for India, and we in Indian industry admire him for what he and his Bata shoe company have done for this country,” said Bajaj Auto chairman Rahul Bajaj.

“Tom and I could not meet often, since we were at the two ends of our plant. But when we did, he has often told me how much expectations, admiration and love he had for India,” Bajaj told IANS. “The same goes for his lovely wife Sonja.”

In the 75 years that the Bata group has been in India, it has captured a 35 percent market share in the organized footwear sector, or 8.5 percent of India’s total footwear market, which is retailed from as many as 1,250 stores.

Almost 98 percent of the company’s revenue is from the domestic market, selling over 45 million pairs of shoes every year with an annual sales turnover of more than Rs.8 billion ($178 million).

The company’s brands include Hush Puppies, Dr. Scholls, North Star, Power, Marie Claire and Bubbleguymmers and the merchandise is sold through not just up-market stores but also traditional shops as well.

The company’s latest venture is a joint venture real estate project with the Calcutta Metropolitan Group to develop 262 acres land in Batanagar into a world-class integrated township.

For Bata, India was also the country which accounted for the maximum sales.

“I am grateful to India as it is the country has provided me the opportunity to serve its billion people by letting me put shoes on their feet,” he said last year in Toronto, when honoured for his contributions to India-Canada ties.

“People in India consider Bata as an Indian company,” he later remarked in an interview, in the same sense of humour his friends known him for.

“And they occasionally complain that the shoe doesn’t fit,” he said, referring to some problems the India operations faced with labour unions.