Mitch Garber to step down as chairman of Cirque du Soleil

Mitch Garber announced on Monday that he will be stepping down as chairman of the board of the Cirque du Soleil. This comes on the heels of an ownership change at the financially troubled circus company.

Last month, a group of creditors won control of the Montreal-based company. The creditors’ group represents holders of about $760 million in Cirque du Soleil debt. One of the main companies in the group is Toronto-based Catalyst Capital Group.

The previous shareholders — U.S. equity firm TPG, China’s Fosun International and the Caisse de dépot et du placement du Québec — were forced out by the deal. The three bought control of the Cirque in 2015 when founder Guy Laliberté sold most of his shares in the company for $1.5 billion.

“I’m heartbroken for the employees and for the business of the Cirque du Soleil,” Garber said in a text sent to the Montreal Gazette. “COVID has forced 100% of the business to be shut down since March and for the foreseeable future. The lender group will take control of the company shortly and I wish them well and hope that the business can restart and that all of the creative and financial investment we made will help resurrect the business. The lender group will and should constitute a new board and I won’t seek to be part of it.”

The company laid off 95 per cent of its staff and cancelled all 45 of its shows around the world when the pandemic hit hard in North America in mid-March. It’s unclear when any of these shows will resume. A spokesperson for the Cirque said it is up to the new owners to decide on the makeup of the board of directors. A representative from Catalyst declined to comment.

Garber first broke the news that he is leaving on the ICI Radio-Canada Première show Pénélope on Monday morning. Host Pénélope McQuade asked Garber if the chair of the board has to be a Quebecer.

“I haven’t spoke about this publicly and maybe this isn’t the best place to do it, but I don’t see myself staying as chairman of the board,” Garber said. “And it has nothing to do with me being Québécois or Canadian. As part of the deal, the CEO has to be a Quebecer.

“And I think you’re right that the chair of the board does not have to be a Quebecer. And, honestly, I don’t think it’s important (that the chair be a Quebecer). I don’t plan on staying, but I haven’t yet had a chance to talk to the new owners … it’s up to the lenders to create their own board of directors. They’ll have their own strategy, and so I think a new start is the best idea.”

Garber went on to say that he has lost the $3 million he invested in the Cirque du Soleil.

Garber was previously a senior executive at the Las Vegas casino company Caesars Entertainment, but he left Caesars in 2017. He is a minority shareholder and executive committee member of the new National Hockey League team the Seattle Kraken, a team majority owned by TPG founder David Bonderman. The team joins the NHL in 2021.

{ SOURCE: Brendan Kelly, The Montreal Gazette }