Tomas Bata University. The new heart (and brain) of Zlin.

As we continue our journey through Bata towns, I wanted to take a moment to talk about Zlin. So much has already been written about Zlin, Tomas Bata's management style and there are many fantastic publications that are widely available. The business and architectural achievements of the Bata company and Zlin in the 1930s are remarkable and I would encourage a quick google search if you aren't familiar with the town. However, in the spirit of innovation and looking forward, I would like to focus on one aspect - the legacy Bata left on education. A prominent local business man recently lamented that "Zlin is built on memories", with a huge weight of expectation placed on itself by its lofty past. I, however, believe what the people of Zlin have achieved over the last 2 decades to be nothing short of remarkable, with the education pillar immortalized in the form of Tomas Bata University (TBU) at its heart.

Zlin houses today, entwined with nature. The "garden city" being an inspiration to its founder.

Although TBU can trace its spiritual roots back to the Bata company of the 1920s and 30s, the current school actually has no direct link to the company's school based there pre-war. Its life started under communism with a vocational college being founded in Zlin as a branch of the University of Bratislava. The original purpose of the school had been to train and provide talent to the Svit factory (which was what the communist's called the nationalized Bata company - meaning "shine" in english).

The original school from the 1920s, had grown from a strong belief in lifelong education that was already part of the company philosophy, with a particular emphasis placed on management/self-management. The first actual school was formally established in 1925, as the Bata School of Work for Boys in 1925 (A girl's school would be opened in 1929). As usual, the company had scoured the world for ideas, and the school was no different some executives traveling as far as America to gain inspiration. Over the next 15 years the school would expand, adding a Technical School, a School of Management and a School of Arts.

Statue of Tomas Bata in front of the former rectory.

Bata Institute, newly reopened, hosting a large library.

After the restoration of democracy in Czechoslovakia and thanks to new energy injected by Thomas J Bata and long-time rector Petr Saha, the college added new faculties devoted to Management and Media in the 1990s and was officially inaugurated as a University in 2001. The growth of the University has been decisive in the revival of the city ever since. Since 2001, the University has grown to over 10,000 students and now hosts a large number of PHD students, as well as undergraduates, excelling in areas such as polymer research. As was the case with the early Bata School that brought students from diverse backgrounds and cultures to Zlin, the University once again acts a beacon for foreign students wanting to learn and enrichen the local community (there are many students from Europe, Asia and beyond).

With the support of the Czech Government and the European Union, the two principal financial contributors to the University, many of the historic buildings have been renovated and repurposed. In addition, new buildings designed by prominent architects, including Zlin native Eva Jiřičná, have been added, creating a dynamic campus-vibe in the city. The stream of young graduates has led to a steady flow of labour for growing local businesses, many of which now have international footprints, as well as to the proliferation of new restaurants and social activities.

Professor Saha and his innovation team at TBU

On the academic front, the school still thrives in the technical areas; and with the establishment of the new Centre for Polymer Systems in 2015, has taken in a leadership field in this area, working with leading companies in many fields (including footwear and tires) in researching and developing new materials. Professor Saha himself has championed the establishment and growth of the footwear program, rekindling Zlin's heritage a leader in this area.

Zlin today is a city just shy of 100,000 inhabitants, ranking it as a mid-sized Czech city. It remains a slice of a little "manhattan", tucked in a lush valley, once the shoe factory to the world. Today, it retains that city charm, but has re-invented itself as a dynamic place to learn, live and work - with the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation that built it a hundred years ago, still abundantly present. Thanks to TBU, there might be a few more visionaries leaving a footprint on the town!

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