The Billionaire Entertainer (Part 2 of 2)

Do not miss out the first part.

 

Le Grand Tour had been conceived as a one-year project, but Laliberte was determined to keep Cirque du Soleil going. He convinced the government to underwrite another season of shows in 1985. Outside of Quebec, however, the reaction was mixed. Shows in Toronto and Niagara Falls were poorly attended and the fledging Cirque organization ended the year of $75,000 in debt. A national tour of eight Canadian cities the following year fared much better, though, and ended with a showcase performance at the world’s fair in Vancouver.

Cirque had an informal, collaborative style of organization in which Laliberte took on the de facto role of executive producer. He kept pushing the circus’s creative staff to make the shows larger, more theatrical, and more visually lavish. Although the crowd kept growing through 1986, so did Cirque’s debt. Laliberte seemed determined to spend money that Cirque didn’t have. He went to France and brought back a gigantic new circus tent even though Cirque couldn’t pay for it. For almost three years, the fiscal management of Cirque du Soleil involved bouncing checks, wheedling creditors, and begging for government handouts.

In 1987, Laliberte booked Cirque to open the Los Angeles Arts Festival. The finances at Cirque were so shaky at the time that some members of the troupe quit over what they considered a reckless move. But Cirque quickly became the hottest ticket at the festival. All 30 performers sold out and the $19 seats were being sold by scalpers for $200.

Elton John and Francis Ford Coppola were among the celebrities who counted themselves a fans. Jane Fonda said she saw the show seven times during its two-week run. Cirque returned to Quebec with $1.5 million, its money problems a thing of the past. Within five years, Cirque shows were touring Europe and Asia. Over the next 20 years, Cirque grew into one of the largest, most profitable entertainment brands in the world

Laliberte’s story is often help up as a classic rags-to-riches triumph. His tremendous success suggest that anyone, even a street performer, who pursues a vision with hard work and determination, can end up falling into an enormous pile of money.

There is more to this story than just passion and drive. After all, plenty of passionate, creative people work hard their whole lives and still struggle to make ends meet. Laliberte isn’t a billionaire because he’s followed his passion and because he managed to hold on to a big equity stake in his business even increasing it along the way at the expense of his other partners.

 

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