Actualizado: 30 oct


"Walker, there is no path, the path is made by walking"

📍 Being a consultant, is like being a walker who visits different places looking for new adventures and challenges, which lead him to rescue companies and organizations, but, above all, human beings who need support to fully exploit their potential, making them aware that they must self-discover, within themselves, the force that will drive them to full realization and that the fuel of that force is called self-esteem.

📍 In that "walking path", I once went to Chicago and the cover photo of this blog corresponds precisely to a visit I made in Chicago to the headquarters of TOPS Products LLC, however, the CEO at that time , Jim Ellward was not there, and nobody could receive me, therefore, I decided to take advantage of the trip to visit their competitors Acco Brands, with the intention of learning more about this interesting industry in the paper sector. To my surprise, I was very kindly received first by the Vice President of Sales Tom Tedford and then by the CEO Boris Elisman, from whom I learned through them many very interesting strategic aspects, which I must confess that to date, I use them in my master's class at Universidad La Salle and at Ibero as a Business Case.

TOPS Products is (after ACCO Brands) the leading US manufacturer of stationery, supplying offices, schools and homes throughout North America and part of Mexico. Tops Products best-known brands are Oxford®, Pendaflex®, Cardinal®, Ampad®, Adams®, Quality Park®, Boorum & Pease® and TOPS ™.

RR Donnelley, who was the largest printer in the world, decided in 2016 to make a spin-off from its traditional graphic arts businesses (Moore Business) and stationery items (Tops Products).

Said spin-off resulted in LSC Communications, the new holding company of "Moore Business" and "Tops Products", which was held for about four years pending sale.

However, in February 2020, the dramatic drop in the value of the shares of LSC Communications, owner of Tops Products, was announced and its sale process was halted.

These were turbulent times, however, thanks to the talent of Matt Roberts, current CEO of Tops Products, circumstances improved.

What Happened?

In the month of April 2020 and after the fall and recovery of its shares, LSC Communications, released the following (Bloomberg):

"LSC Communications, announced that along with most of its US print and office product affiliates, it voluntarily filed a business reorganization under the US Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Code in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York"

The Company's decision follows a thorough evaluation of opportunities to reduce its debt and better position LSC to compete and deliver exceptional products and services to its clients.

LSC accounted with sufficient liquidity to continue operating its business safely and efficiently and remains committed to serving its clients with the same high standards of Quality and reliability they expect.

Subsidiaries of LSC in Mexico and Canada were not included in the legal proceedings and will continue to operate in the normal course.

Finally, on September 15, 2020, LSC entered into a share and asset purchase agreement with a subsidiary of the private equity firm Atlas Holdings LLC, with the support of some of LSC's secured creditors (group of creditors).

Finally Atlas Holdings acquired substantially all of LSC's assets, including its operations in Canada and Mexico, through a combination of cash and a credit offering of obligations under the secured term credit facility of the company and senior secured notes in the direction of the group of secured creditors. Atlas also assumed certain responsibilities of LSC, including, subject to certain preconditions being met, obligations related to LSC's qualified pension plan.

Atlas Holdings has other interests in the paper / packaging industry

Greenwich, Connecticut-based Atlas Holdings is no stranger to the printing, packaging and paper industries. Andrew Bursky and Tim Fazio started Atlas in 2002 with the purchase of a small paper mill in rural Indiana that employed 85 people. Today, Atlas and its affiliates own 21 companies that generate more than $ 6 billion in annual revenue and employ approximately 22,000 people in more than 200 manufacturing and distribution facilities around the world. Atlas targets underperforming or discontinued corporate vendor operations, bankruptcy purchases, out-of-court restructurings and reorganizations.

Its holdings within the paper industry include Finch, a paper manufacturer specializing in uncoated papers; Twin Rivers Paper, a manufacturer of lumber, specialty packaging, labels, and publishing papers; Marcal, a manufacturer of paper towels and paper products; and Millar Western, an Alberta-based pulp producer.


If we do an analysis of their opportunities and threats, the latter have been around Tops for a long time:

To better understand what Tops Products was experiencing, at "OMNIVERSO - eaBC" we conducted a PESTEL analysis, that is, an evaluation of uncontrollable political, economic, social, technological, ecological, and legal variables, to diagnose the environment of Tops.

The analysis results are shown below this text:

Unfortunately, two years ago, the external environment showed more threats than opportunities, especially due to Covid 19, which accelerated the economic contraction in the USA and the "excessive" use of technology, which is a natural and frontal substitute for stationery for office and schools.

What we recommended to TOPS two years ago was to do an internal analysis (strengths and weaknesses), contrasted with its threats and opportunities (PESTEL), and considering that it occupies the second competitive position, since the first is "ACCO"; Tops should also consider that they are in an industry whose growth is awfully slow.

In summary and derived from the PESTEL analysis, the recommendations given two years ago were the following:

1) Diversify (if time allows) in Latin American markets, where their products still have a strong demand and take advantage of their economy of scale to offer competitive prices.

2) Develop strategic allies in emerging countries such as Latin America, to reduce economic and market risks.

3) Cut of unnecessary expenses and that do not add value.

4) Redesign the purchasing strategy and look for substitute suppliers outside of China.

5) Outsourcing all activities that are not part of the "core business" as its marketing area which is very primitive and obsolete.

6) Having reviewed the profitability by product, eliminate those that are not highly profitable or do not justify that they add value.

7) Review of profitability per customer and their payment performance, to eliminate those that do not add enough value to the company.

8) Change your perception of the market, putting a greater focus on the consumer rather than the distribution channel

9) Take more seriously the implementation of a better ERP & CRM that allows them a greater knowledge of supply and demand, inventory movement and customers.

10) Accelerate e-business implementation.

11) Modernize business management.

12) Transform into a world-class company, developing incremental, disruptive and radical innovations and seek to be more competitive than just productive.

📍As a consultant for Tops Products, I met very valuable, noble, professional and temperate people like Dante Ercoli to whom I send many greetings from here. Could say that consultants are like those old knights errant from the Middle Ages, but instead of rescuing castles and princesses from the clutches of evil, we rescue companies and people from the threats of this changing world.

This, reminds me of the wise words of Antonio Machado:

"Walker, are your footprints

the road and nothing else,

Walker, there is no path,

path is made by walking.

When walking, the path is made,

and looking back

you see the path that never

must be stepped on again.

As Tops Products former consultant, I am proud to have developed and implemented the competitive strategy between 2010 and 2015 for Tops Products in Mexico and Central America, from the repositioning of the brand to the relocation of a better infrastructure through a logistics operator "ABC LOGÍSTICA" lead by Miguel Barranco.

Below this text, I share a photo gallery of the beginnings of Tops Products in Mexico.