Cirque du Soleil sells majority stake


MONTREAL – A 30-year chapter in one of Canada’s major success stories in the business and entertainment worlds ended Monday with the announcement that Guy Laliberte is selling his majority stake in the famed Cirque du Soleil to a U.S. private equity firm.

The founder of the internationally renowned Cirque, which conquered the world with breathtaking and cutting-edge shows, will maintain a 10 per cent stake in the Montreal-based company and continue to provide strategic and creative input.

“I want to set other creative challenges for myself,” Laliberte, 55, told a news conference in Montreal, which will remain the Cirque’s international creative and management headquarters.

Equity firm TPG has acquired the majority stake for an undisclosed price, while Chinese investment firm Fosun and Quebec pension fund manager the Caisse de depot will hold minority stakes.

Laliberte has five children between the ages of seven and 18 but said having them take over the Cirque was never really an option.

“They have their dreams and as a father I have made the commitment to support them as they chase them,” he said.

“I don’t really believe in the idea of the second generation of entrepreneurs. From the outset, I didn’t want to put the pressure of running the circus on their shoulders.”

Laliberte dismissed any suggestions the Cirque is in financial difficulty, saying it is a profitable venture that sells 11 million tickets a year.

In a statement released before the news conference, Laliberte said the sale will be good for the Cirque.

“After 30 years building the Cirque du Soleil brand, we have now found the right partners in TPG, Fosun and the Caisse to take Cirque du Soleil forward to the next stage in its evolution as a company founded on the conviction that the arts and business, together, can contribute to making a better world,” he said.

Caisse de depot CEO Michael Sabia said it is partnering with Cirque as it seeks to conquer new markets.

“We are pleased that this new era of growth will be directed from Montreal, the Cirque’s decision-making and creative centre, under the direction of Daniel Lamarre as CEO,” he said in a statement.

The agreement will also see Quebec businessman Mitch Garber become chairman of the company.

TPG says its experience building brands like J. Crew and Neiman Marcus, along with its strong media and entertainment relationships, will provide Cirque with new revenue opportunities.

The new owners plan to expand Cirque’s presence in China. They also want to expand third-party licensing deals, digital media and ticket sales.

“We are inspired by Guy Laliberte’s imagination and vision, and look forward to working with him and his talented team, as well as the vibrant Montreal creative community,” said David Trujillo, a TPG partner.

The sale is expected to close in the third quarter.

Since beginning in 1984, Cirque has played to almost 160 million spectators in more than 330 cities in some 48 countries.