MONTREAL – Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte has told employees that a sale of Quebec’s famed circus company for less than $2 billion has not yet been finalized.
The majority owner sent an email to employees on Wednesday, sources say, before reports surfaced that U.S. private equity firm TPG Capital was close to completing a deal, along with the Caisse de depot and a large Chinese investment fund.
The Cirque co-founder and Quebec’s pension fund manager are said to each control 10 per cent of the company, with TPG holding 60 per cent and China’s Fosun Capital the remaining 20 per cent.
Michel Nadeau, a former senior Caisse official, says he expects Cirque’s headquarters will remain in Montreal but that a second production centre could be opened in Shanghai, where Fosun is based.
He says China has lots of circus expertise and Asia is a growing entertainment market.
TPG is the world’s largest casino owner with a stake in Caesar’s Entertainment while Fosun owns Club Med resorts.
While the Quebec government has said it wants Cirque’s head office remain in the province in the event of a sale, Premier Philippe Couillard said today it won’t intervene “in a private transaction.”
Nadeau said the Caisse wouldn’t heed any political pressure and would only make an investment if it made financial sense.
The pension fund manager knows TPG well and has experience with the Cirque, having loaned Laliberte millions of dollars to buy out partner Daniel Langlois.
The purchase price is reportedly less than what Laliberte was seeking.
But Nadeau says the billionaire entrepreneur didn’t properly prepare his succession and missed out on an opportunity to take the company public by having it remain so closely tied to him.