Founder Guy Laliberté will bid to buy back Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté is set to make a bid to buy the Montreal-based circus, which he sold for US$1.5 billion in 2015.

Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté. Dario Ayala / Montreal Gazette files

Share Adjust Comment Print

Cirque du Soleil founder and former CEO Guy Laliberté wants to get back into the circus biz.

On Sunday on the popular Radio-Canada talk show Tout le monde en parle, Laliberté announced he is going to launch a bid to try to buy back the Cirque du Soleil. In an opinion piece in the Gazette earlier this month, Laliberté wrote: “A few days before the registration deadline for the battle royal, I am deciding whether or not I’m going to jump into that wrestling ring. …”

On Sunday he jumped into the ring.

In 2015, Laliberté sold the Cirque du Soleil to American private equity investment firm TPG Capital, Chinese investment company Fosun and the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec for a reported US$1.5 billion. In late March, the Montreal-based circus laid off 95 per cent of its staff, close to 4,700 employees, after all of its shows around the world were shuttered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senior management then said they were evaluating all options, including seeking bankruptcy protection. Three weeks ago, TPG, Fosun and the Caisse injected an additional US$50 million to try to keep the company alive.

In a phone interview while driving to Tout le monde en parle, Laliberté stressed he was mounting a bid for Cirque because of his love of what the Cirque does and that money was not the main driving force behind his decision.

“It’s finding a perfect balance with a good healthy Cirque financially but also where the love of the public is coming back and mostly where the fire is within the workforce,” Laliberté said. “It doesn’t have to be US$1.5 billion of value to be viable. There will be a very difficult short term and focus on quality is what my focus is versus money. I will jump in if the price is right, but I don’t want to be in an organization where money drives the future of Cirque. That would be very dangerous for the future of Cirque. … I think there’s a bright future for Cirque.”

He said he already has several major financial partners lined up to work with him on the bid and he said he is not mounting the bid with TPG Capital, which is the company’s single largest shareholder. He said it is too soon to say whether he will step back in as CEO of the company, nor whether he would retain current management, including current CEO Daniel Lamarre.

“I won’t tell you my recipe because everyone is keeping their plans to themselves,” Laliberté said. “So I won’t disclose my secret sauce. But I can tell you the love factor, the passion factor, the fire factor is what’s always driven Cirque and I wanted to bring it back to where it once was. There’s no right or wrong with what’s been done with Cirque. Under my management we had highs and lows, but the Cirque is a living organism. It’s very emotional and you need to understand it. Cirque feeds from its inner fire and you cannot buy that. Money can’t buy the fire.”

But he admits it’s going to be tough to relaunch the Cirque.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’ll be hell for the first two years and that’s why I took time to reflect on this,” Laliberté said. “Nothing is guaranteed, but I think we’re the best team to make it happen. For sure it’s a jungle out there. It’s complex. But if I’m jumping in, it’s a commitment of 10 to 15 years.”