Universal Corp. engages in the processing, procuring, financing, packing, storing, shipping and trading of leaf tobacco. It operates its business through the following business segments: North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Dark Air-Cured, Oriental and Special Services. The North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia segments are involved in flue-cured and burley leaf tobacco operations. The Dark Air-Cured segment includes supplying of dark air-cured tobacco to manufacturers of cigars, pipe tobacco, and smokeless tobacco products. The Oriental segment supplies oriental tobacco to cigarette manufacturers. The Special Services segment provides laboratory services, including physical and chemical product testing and smoke testing. The company was founded in 1918 and is headquartered in Richmond, VA.
Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations
We are the leading global leaf tobacco supplier. We derive most of our revenues from sales of processed tobacco to manufacturers of tobacco products throughout the world and from fees and commissions for specific services. We hold a strategic position in the world leaf markets where we work closely with both our customers and farmers to ensure that we deliver a compliant product that meets our customers' needs while promoting a strong supplier base. We adapt to meet changes in customer requirements as well as broader changes in the leaf markets, while continuing to provide the stability of supply and high level of service that distinguishes us in the marketplace. We believe that we have successfully met the needs of both our customers and suppliers while adapting to changes in leaf markets. Over the last three fiscal years, we have generated almost $500 million in net cash flow from operations, invested over $100 million in our businesses, settled the mandatory conversion of our Series B 6.75% Convertible Perpetual Preferred Stock for about $178 million in cash, and returned over $200 million to our shareholders through a combination of dividends and share repurchases.
We delivered solid results in fiscal year 2017 despite supply headwinds, most notably from the weather-reduced crop sizes in Brazil and ongoing challenging market conditions in Tanzania. Although we had anticipated ending fiscal year 2017 with slightly lower volumes, earlier shipment timing as well as attractive green prices in some origins resulting in some additional purchases by our customers boosted shipments later in our fiscal year, allowing us to improve our market share and achieve lamina sales volumes that were slightly above those of fiscal year 2016. Our segment operating income for the 2017 fiscal year was also improved, primarily attributable to a reduction in selling, general, and administrative costs and earlier receipt of distributions from unconsolidated subsidiaries.