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Canadian icon Cirque du Soleil sells majority stake to U.S. private equity firm

Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte speaks at a news conference in Montreal Monday, April 20, 2015. Cirque du Soleil has signed a deal to sell a majority stake in the famed circus group to U.S. private equity firm TPG for an undisclosed price.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
April 20, 2015 - 11:30 AM

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.

OVO! by Cirque de Soleil
OVO! by Cirque de Soleil
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Ed Schipul

A timeline:

1984 — To mark the 450th anniversary of French explorer Jacques Cartier’s arrival in Canada, the Quebec government hires Guy Laliberte and Gilles Ste-Croix’s troupe of about 20 street performers. They create the Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil, and take the show on the road to 11 Quebec communities.

1985 — The troupe travels beyond Quebec for the first time, playing in Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls, and then onto western cities a year later. By 1987, it performs in California and earns raves reviews for its We Reinvent the Circus show.

1990 — We Reinvent the Circus goes to London and Paris.

1994 — The company marks its 10th anniversary with the show Alegria, opening in Montreal. It plays in 250 cities for more than 14 million audience members, closing in December 2013.

1998 — The troupe’s new show, O, opens in Las Vegas’s Bellagio hotel and casino. O is the troupe’s first aquatic performance.

2003 — Zumanity, an adult-only Cirque show, opens at another hotel in Las Vegas.

2009 — Laliberte becomes Canada’s first private space explorer.

2010 — Laliberte receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

2012 — The troupe launches a creative production service aimed at helping other artists and organizations. Madonna’s halftime Super Bowl performance uses the Cirque’s artistic direction.

2013 — An acrobat from Paris, France becomes the first-ever fatality during a Cirque performance. Sarah Guyard-Guillot falls to her death at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

2014 — The Cirque marks its 30th anniversary.

2015 — LaLiberte announces a deal to sell a majority stake to U.S. private equity firm TPG; Chinese investment firm Fosun and Quebec pension fund manager the Caisse de depot will hold minority stakes. He says the deal will move the Cirque forward in its evolution as a company "founded on the conviction that the arts and business, together, can contribute to making a better world."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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