KOLKATA: Shoe tycoon Thomas J Bata, who passed away at a hospital in Toronto early on Monday morning, introduced himself in his business card as “chief salesman.Though he was only a few weeks away from his 94th birthday (he was born on September 17, 1914) when he breathed his last, his associates say he still visited his stores across the world, age notwithstanding. Bata is survived by his wife Sonja, son and three daughters.From a humble family cobbler’s shop founded by Thomas J Bata’s father Tomas in the Moravian town of Zlin in the Czech Republic in 1894, the enterprise became the global conglomerate Bata Shoe Organisation under his leadership. Bata came to Canada and earned a name for himself in the shoe business. “I wanted to do something where I could say ‘OK, now this enterprise I built on my own. Canada was the one country that I selected for this experiment,” Bata had said once.By 1940, the Batawa plant in eastern Ontario, Canada, was in business and after 1945, when the Czech factories were nationalised by the Communists, the company headquarters were relocated to Toronto under Bata’s leadership. The Bata Shoe Museum is also located in Toronto, a four-storied structure with 10,000 shoes. The company returned to the Czech Republic in 1989 — almost 100 years after it was founded — in 1894, after the Communist regime ended there. A visionary, known to have always walked in step with high quality, Thomas J Bata is said to have changed the very soul of the footwear business. Previously the domain of craftsmen, Bata turned shoemaking into an industry by introducing the conveyor system that he had seen being used by the Ford Motor, a move that increased shoe production by 75%.It was 75 years ago that Thomas Bata set foot on Indian soil. But, his became a household name in the country, the brand becoming almost a generic term for shoes, especially in eastern India. Bata India chairman PM Sinha remembered him as a gentleman and an inspiration for all his employees. “He was very committed to quality, new designs and service,” he said.In India, Bata set up his first factories at Mocama and Digha Patna in Bihar, and Batanagar in West Bengal. “In those days, goods used to be transported by ships and so these factories had to come up near the rivers,” Sinha said.Today, Bata India has several units spread across the country such as in Hosur and Faridabad, apart from factory tie-ups in Uttarakhand and Himachal.Though Thomas J Bata was still on the company’s board, it was his son, Thomas G Bata, who actually ran the show. “In any case, each country’s board is allowed to operate on its own and so Thomas J Bata’s death will have no direct impact on the company’s future plans,” Sinha said.