“Dedication and hard work are key elements”
If you follow business news about Brazilian companies with relevant growth, you have probably heard of Tip Top. Founded in 1952 as a family business, the clothing and accessories brand for babies and children has changed its focus from industry to retail over recent decades and has become a well known and successful brand across the country. Currently, Tip Top has 120 shops – among its own and franchises – and is present at another five thousand points of sale.
Behind the brand’s strategy is David Bobrow, the CEO of the company, and his team. David is an Old Paulean, class of 1991, and parent of three children currently studying at St. Paul’s. In 1994, David was only 20 when he started working at Tip Top. In this interview, David talks more about his experience as a St. Paul’s pupil and shares some of the key events in his professional life that helped him to strive. “We were the right company at the right time. We had the attitude to go after it”, he says.
What brought you and your family to St. Paul’s?
David: My mother went to St. Paul’s in the late 1950s and I entered the school in 1978, so I’m the second generation, and now I have three kids at school. I can see that it is a totally different school now. After I left in 1991, the school became a mix of people from other countries and Old Pauleans. We are really happy with the school nowadays. When my first daughter came in she had some problems when moving from the Pre-Prep to Prep, and the school’s team helped a lot. Mrs Allum went to the door every day to get Naomi and take her to herclassroom. And you don’t expect that with a school of 1,000 pupils.
Tell us more about your experience as a St. Paul’s pupil?
David: I remember starting in Junior 1, and I didn’t know a word of English. After a few days I started learning everything, I liked making friends. I remember in Junior 2, I had a teacher who was tough. We ended up in detention every single week. I loved Sports, that was my thing at St. Paul’s – I was in Lancaster at the time, when you could be in the Lancaster or York houses. I played all types of sports; I played every single day.
Did you have a teacher at St. Paul’s who was particularly impactful?
David: During the Junior School, I had my Junior 6 teacher, Mr Philip, who was also my football coach. He was my class teacher, and I learned a lot from him. I remember that if I did something wrong in class, he would go after me during training. I just loved Mr Fowley – he was tough. And I wasn’t the greatest student, I think. But I was OK in chemistry. I remember we had to learn the periodic table and it was one of the things I got right. He asked a few questions, and, if you got it right, he forgot about you the rest of the term. I remember another situation when there was a beginning of a fire in the chemistry lab, with a Bunsen burner. Mr Fowley actually set himself on fire and went running into the corridor, and the alarm went off and we all had to go out onto the field. No one got hurt, it wasn’t serious, but it was funny. There was also Mr Newton, our maths teacher. I was good at maths. He took us on a trip to Itatiaia and it was the greatest trip ever, all the pupils bonding as friends.
Where did you go when you left the school?
David: I started studying engineering at Faculdade de Engenharia Industrial, and in the middle, I ended up changing to PUC SP, where I graduated in Administration. When I started studying Engineering, I also started to work at Banco Safra. I wanted to work full time so I left FEI and went to study in PUC at night. At the same time, I started working at Tip Top, a family business. At the time, in 1994, there were two business – the textile business and Tip Top.. I started to work here, and I was totally into it, I liked it from the outset. By 1995, I was already managing the company, with the help of my family. At that time, we were mainly selling to multibrand companies, and it grew a lot that way.
What would you say were the key events that helped build up your professional path?
David: There were two key events that I can see looking back. In 2001, there was a client that was going to open a factory at Sidrolandia, near to Campo Grande. At that time, my older brother was managing the textile company, but he could not go to the inauguration, and I saw something different there, where there were local benefits for factories. So I met the mayor, who is my friend today, and I met the vice-governor. I started talking to them about having a plant there, and in 2002, I opened our first factory outside São Paulo, which was not something very common then. In 2007 we ended up opening another factory in Campo Grande. But I think what the biggest turning event was in 2008, when we started to open our own shops. I had a previous project, and it was not working and when Shopping Bourbon opened (in São Paulo), we started our first shop, with a different concept. I knew a lot about factories but nothing about shops. So I reached out for help to design the franchising project and a lot of people are with us since then. Looking back if these events have not happened, there would not be a Tip Top today.
I do not believe in pure luck, but I feel that when things are going the wrong way, we always find the best way to adapt. The latest example was when the pandemic started. In March 2020, I remember everyone stopped buying from us. We were not sure if we would survive that. I talked to everyone who works for us, that we were going to make this through together. What did happen? We found an opportunity and Tip Top was the first company in the country to start selling cloth face masks. We started because there was a person from a factory who would need more masks, otherwise they would have to close the factory in a few days. And we looked around the world and saw people wearing these kinds of products. We closed big contracts in the beginning that helped us surviving. We talked to companies, and they started realising that they would need masks. We have spent this period selling masks. We were the right company at the right time. We had the attitude to go after it.
What are some skills you learned at St. Paul’s that apply to your professional life?
David: The path I took is not the path I would tell my kids to take. I would dedicate more if I were at school today.
What advice would you give to your teenage self today?
David: I would say work hard at school to get good grades, to engage in as many activities as possible, that can help you to flourish and to know what you like to do. All these things will help you not only in university and in your professional life, but in life in general. But I would also say that they should make a lot of friends and enjoy their time at the school.
What advice would you give to St. Paul’s pupils?
David: It is a mixture of things that can be learned from the school – dedicate yourself. Go after what you want. It is possible that if you like what you are pursuing it will help you a lot. Good academics is not enough. Dedication and hard work are key elements. Try not to change jobs all the time, you need some time. It is not enough just to know your books by heart. You need to create your own path.
Do you remain in contact with your friends from St. Paul’s?
David: Yes, sure, we have a group, and we remain in close contact. Recently there was a friend who got married in England and managed to get together a group of friends coming from all over the world.