Davide Pisanu: Leading in the Age of Constant Decision-making

Davide Pisanu, Senior Vice-President Affiliated Businesses at the Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group and CEO of the Blue Man Group, has worn many hats within the world-renowned performance company since starting there three years ago. On top of his involvement with the Cirque du Soleil’s partners, he currently oversees the group’s strategy and transformation and serves as the interim Senior Vice-President for the Resident Show Division in Las Vegas.

This mountain of responsibility at a company that employs over 5,000 across its multiple divisions and subsidiaries is no small undertaking—but, Pisanu is up to the task. His excitement for the mental gymnastics of balancing the multiple portfolios under his responsibility is, in fact, at the heart of his success with the Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group.

“It’s really about where you find joy and energy and seeking that out,” Pisanu explained. “People are not going to pay you a certain amount of money and give you a certain title for you to start counting your hours. You need to make it work and the only way you do that is by doing something that you enjoy. I get a lot of energy from solving complex problems and doing things and transforming things and shaping things.”

As a native Montrealer, part of the joy that Pisanu derives from his work comes from participating in a local success story. The Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group began as a performing circus troupe that toured Quebec in 1980 under the moniker Les Échassiers,before growing into the largest theatrical producer in the world.

“For me being part of something bigger than I am and something important for this city, this province, and this country was clearly a part of [joining Cirque du Soleil],” Pisanu said.

The convergence of francophone and anglophone cultures is as emblematic of the city that the performance group has flourished in, as it is of the business’s success. For Pisanu, the Cirque du Soleil’s multicultural project has elevated Montreal’s status as a creative hub to the heights of New York and Los Angeles.

“Cirque du Soleil’s signature products, are truly influenced by the meeting of two cultures: what people traditionally call European circus and the North American circus tradition where you travel between cities,” he said. “So it’s the meeting of a certain aesthetic with a certain business model that is truly unique and probably the only place where that could happen is Montreal.”

Including a formative three-year period at McKinsey & Company, Pisanu has had three careers over the course of his early forties as a lawyer, a consultant, and an operator. He attributes his diverse resume to his perpetual need for a challenge. He sees himself, not as a classical operator, content to oversee a status quo, but as a critical thinker who seeks to effect change and transformation.

“I need to take things and bring them somewhere,” Pisanu said. “And that somewhere needs to be different from where I first started. Some people are really good at optimization: you take a business, you optimize, and you keep running it. I think I need a little bit more intensity.”

Pisanu views non-linear trajectories such as his as an emerging trend in today’s uncertain world. Instead of steadily working their way to the top of a given company, modern professionals always need to be on the lookout for new opportunities.

“Nobody knows what the world is going to look like twenty-four months from now, which was not the case thirty years ago,” Pisanu remarked. “Young people today have to be prepared to be constantly reinventing themselves.”

The unpredictability of business has also caused a shift in managerial styles. Executives need to be willing to depart from standard models and techniques like long-term development plans in favour of adaptability.

“Today, we make decisions constantly,” Pisanu said. “As a senior executive I never really make a decision that is for five years later because things change super fast. You set up a strategy because you need a guiding star, but you need to be nimble and agile enough to revisit your decision on an almost constant basis.”

On the upside, leaders’ flexibility in the face of uncertainty allows for a more participatory business model, even at big companies like the Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group. Pisanu acknowledges that it can take personal courage to share new ideas, but he is also emphatic that the rewards are well worth it. As a young senior executive, Pisanu has experienced the benefits of that courage firsthand.

“People are afraid of being judged for saying the wrong thing,” he said. “But the less practice you have the less good you are at imposing your presence. And this is something that compounds throughout your whole career. If there’s a time to make a mistake it’s when you start.”

{ SOURCE: Karl Moore; Forbes }