Cirque du Soleil names Stéphane Lefebvre as president and CEO


Lefebvre was previously chief operating officer of the Montreal-based circus company.

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The Cirque du Soleil has always been all about creativity, but in a radical about-face the new chief executive officer comes from a background in accounting and finance.

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On Tuesday afternoon, the Montreal-based circus announced that Stéphane Lefebvre has been appointed president and chief executive officer of the company. The announcement was made at a news conference at Cirque headquarters in St-Michel.

Lefebvre was previously chief operating officer of the leading circus company. The appointment is effective Dec. 1.

He replaces Daniel Lamarre, who steps down after two decades as president and CEO. Lamarre becomes executive vice-chair of the board.

Lefebvre insisted he’s not just a money guy.

“My background has more than just the financial aspects of management,” said Lefebvre. “I’ve been working in different businesses. Since I joined Cirque du Soleil six years ago, I’ve been involved in different parts of the business, not only the financial part … including the strategy of the company and including its operations.

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“And I’ve done that in my previous career as well. I worked for an amazing company called CAE and I was highly involved in operations. I am a (chartered professional accountant) by trade but I’ve got more than just finance in my background. I have a lot of interest in arts and what the creative team’s capabilities are. … One of my favourite meetings was when we reviewed creative content for upcoming shows and I have the pleasure and benefit of having an amazing creative team.”

At the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, the Cirque had to cancel all 45 of its shows around the world and it fired 4,679 employees, or 95 per cent of its staff. It then was forced to seek bankruptcy protection and at the end of the process, the previous shareholders — U.S. equity firm TPG Capital, China’s Fosun International, and the Caisse du dépot et de placement du Québec — lost control of the company.

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It was taken over by its secured lenders, a group that includes Catalyst Capital Group, Sound Point Capital and CBAM Partners and Benefit Street Partners.

In recent months, the Cirque has been gradually re-launching various shows around the world. The show Drawn to Life premiered in mid-November at Walt Disney World in Florida and the company also restarted six of its permanent shows in Las Vegas. Lamarre says ticket sales in Vegas right now are better than they were in 2019 prior to the pandemic. Also Blue Man Group, which is owned by the Cirque, has three permanent shows currently in operation in the U.S.

Going forward, Lamarre said the Cirque will be doing less shows than before.

“The reality now is, and we made it very clear with our new owners, maybe it’s better to have fewer shows and focus on having a stronger presence in strong markets,” said Lamarre.

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He cited as an example of this that they will now have a new show in Montreal every year, rather than every two years, which was the case in the past. The first show in Montreal since the pandemic will be Kooza!, which will begin performances in the Old Port April 28. The Cirque just signed a new 10-year deal with the Old Port to have a new show every year. The Cirque also plans to do the same thing in Toronto, Los Angeles and London.

“So the 10 super markets we have, we can go there every year,” said Lamarre. “Only that will change the financial model of Cirque. You have Vegas that gives you a lot of stability. Then if you add 10 super markets that adds another layer of sustainability.”

Daniel Lamarre, left, said he wanted to step down as CEO of Cirque du Soleil to ensure a seamless transition.
Daniel Lamarre, left, said he wanted to step down as CEO of Cirque du Soleil to ensure a seamless transition. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Lamarre said it was his decision to step down as CEO and that he was not pressured by the new shareholders.

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“First of all, I’m not getting younger,” said Lamarre, 67. “That was not only my decision, it was my recommendation. I really pushed for that transition plan to be in place because I’m not looking short-term. I’m looking mid-term. There’s only one way to learn to be a CEO, it’s to be a CEO and that’s why I thought Stéphane moving in as a CEO, and counting on my presence full-time for a while, I think is the best scenario.

“And what I like about what’s happening right now, and I don’t want to make it a personal thing, but the book that I’m writing and publishing on creativity, is exactly in the line of what you were asking about Stéphane. The role of a guy like Stéphane or myself is to put in place the right conditions to nurture creativity. And here you are in the building of a creative centre. That’s where we are. … We have to preserve that at any cost because the day that we lose our creative edge, we’re done.”

bkelly@postmedia.com

twitter.com/brendanshowbiz

Note: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of employees fired by the Cirque du Soleil. The Montreal Gazette regrets the error.

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