Report Roundup: Sometimes it’s Good to be Guy

As we mentioned last issue, an “unauthorized” history of Cirque du Soleil has just been published (which Wayne reviews this issue!). A Montreal newspaper (which we translated through Babelfish) quotes Cirque spokesperson Renee-Claude Menard claiming the book is full of “inaccuracies.” Enough so that the planned publication of an “authorized” telling of the Cirque story has now been “accelerated.” (Though we had heard it had always been planned to be published this year, and don’t understand why they now call it “accelerated”.) According to Menard, the book author, Jean Beaunoyer, did not approach them to verify any factual information. In fact, the article’s quotes suggest that Cirque’s take on this book is that it is told only by those who did not share in Guy Laliberte’s “vision” for the circus. Check out Wayne’s review to hear his take on it!

Other than the occasional unauthorized biography coming out about your company, or the bad press that can be generated for firing the wrong acrobat for the wrong reason, what a life Guy Laliberte must be living! A new member of the Forbes “Billionaire Club” (at $1.2 billion), at the helm of a huge creative organization. It should be enough reason to throw a big party! Which seems to be a specialty Mr. Laliberte excels at, to the consternation of his neighbors.

But maybe we should explain.

After our recent request for more sources for articles and information about Cirque, Nancy, a kind Montreal-based reader started sending us citations of Cirque-related articles appearing in Montreal French-based press. Several of them referenced Mr. L’s party throwing habits.

The first, from June 12, 2003, discussed a “down-sizing” of Guys famous yearly party, which Babelfish translated somehow as “Great Price Of Montreal”(?). Whereas the previous year the party had 1000 attendees (needing 200 security guards and 12 police officers), the 2003 party, to be held in the L’Hotel Saint-Paul in Old Montreal would
be limited to only 200 attendees. Of course, all costs were being paid by Mr. L.

The second, dated November 3, mentioned a Halloween party at his home in the Saint-Bruno area, which got a little loud. So much so, in fact, that neighbors were kept awake by the noise late into the night, with the party not stopping until midday the next day. Which lead to police officers being called, and Mr. L slapped with a $138 CDN fine for excessive noise!

Turns out neighbors have had this problem before with Mr. L. According to the article, neighbors tried in vain to take their noise complaints to the local authorities. And the administrator in charge of the Saint-Bruno National Park next to the residence suggests that noise from Guy’s house envelops the park more than they would like.

And the coverage of Mr. L doesn’t stop there! To commemorate his inauguration into the Billionaire Club, Forbes magazine did a one-page story on him in their March 15, 2004 issue. The two-page picture spread introducing the article is a standout, showing guy standing on a water lily, in a pond on the “O” stage, as several “O” characters stare back at him. The picture, by Norman Jean Roy, is striking. The article, written by Matthew Miller, has a short history of Guy and his successes. Written from a business perspective, it had some interesting factoids, including:

* Cirque has little debt and a likely pretax margin of nearly 25%. That means from every dollar of revenue generated, 75 cents covers the cost of producing the “product”, in this case Cirque’s shows. The other 25% goes to cover overhead, taxes, and profit.

* Each night, the three Vegas shows play to 9,000 people, 5% of the towns visitors. Cirque’s “deal” with the hotels (in this case the MGM properties) is a 50-50 split once performances start. And the hotels are happy with that – Zumanity increased New York-New York’s revenue 31% in the fourth quarter of 2003!

* The article also has an interesting early story to tell. Shortly after becoming the talk of Hollywood with the “Cirque Reinvente” tour in 1987, Laliberte signed with Columbia Pictures to make a film based on Cirque characters. So a party was thrown by Dawn Steel, Columbia’s then president, to announce the deal. To quote Laliberte in the article, “They were seating all the stars, and I was basically put aside. They just wanted to lock up our story and our brand name and walk around like they owned Cirque du Soleil. I walked right out of the party, called my lawyer and told him to get me out of the deal.” An interesting insight into his independent nature, no?

Finally the article concludes (and brings this article again to parties and its own conclusion), with a mention of Guy’s famous parties, or as he likes to call them, “laboratories.” “I don’t play golf or all those things people normally do for business. I do parties. That’s where I bring people in, showcase ideas and in the end, do deals.”