Cirque du Soleil director Lamarre on coming out of bankruptcy and the lessons of success
In a new book, Balancing acts, former CEO of Cirque du Soleil and now Executive Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors, Daniel Lamarre, shares his experience during his 20 years at the helm of a world-class entertainment juggernaut with over a billion dollars in annual sales before the pandemic. The business lessons he learned at the head of the company – which had to shut down productions for nearly a year and a half due to the pandemic – translate into both creative and traditional fields. In this Q&A with Lamarre, he discusses his thoughts on Cirque’s reestablishment after months without any performance, how digital fits into the future of Circus and performing arts, the essential place for creativity in business and more. again.
Newsweek: What’s the most important thing to be successful in business?
Daniel Lamarre: Creativity. If you don’t prioritize creativity – the dictionary definition of “to create or bring into existence something new” – you are wasting your time. No business deserves to exist if it isn’t constantly discovering new ways to improve the lives of its customers. Without creativity, there is no business.
How to integrate creativity in an organization? What about in non-artistic or more traditional fields?
First, forget about the traditional corporate pyramid structure, which tends to stifle experimentation. Employees need smaller, more intimate “innovation cells” to express themselves and innovate in a supportive environment. At least one cell should be dedicated exclusively to research and development to uncover new ideas in areas suitable for your business.
During COVID-19, you jumped on the digital train and launched Cirque Connect. Do you see this remaining an important part of your brand?
Absoutely. Cirque Connect has attracted over 65 million views since its launch in March 2020. Cirque Connect has reached younger and more digitally savvy fans, inspired a documentary film about the reopening of our Las Vegas show oh and has led to discussions with streaming platforms like Disney +, Amazon Prime Video, and Netflix about developing original art content for them. The lesson is that industries like retail, manufacturing, and live events that may perceive digital as an existential threat should keep an open mind about its enormous power.
In 2020, Cirque filed for bankruptcy and laid off 95% of its workforce. What factors necessitated this? What has changed since Cirque came out of this process with new owners?
Our bankruptcy filing was caused 100% by the pandemic for one simple reason: you can’t run a business with zero income. Before that, we were booming, with 44 profitable shows playing around the world. At the end of 2020, we were acquired by our creditors, who absorbed our debt and invested an additional $ 375 million. This put our market value, even in a crippled state, at $ 1.275 billion. Today many of our shows are back with many more in the works. We’re still the same business, with fantastic new owners who have learned how our unusual business works but leave the creative side alone to do their magic.
Have you been able to fully outfit your shows with the booming Delta and Omicron variants? What other challenges are you facing with the ongoing pandemic?
We are obviously respectful of all the rules and regulations in place in each of the cities and countries where we perform. The US COVID-19 situation allows us to present our shows right now, and we are fortunate that the return of our productions to Las Vegas, Orlando and other key markets have been successful. We are confident, with the current recall blitz, that the situation will return to normal in the near future. In the meantime, we have observed a strong tendency to attend live performances which is also a very positive thing for us.
Do you think there will be lasting effects on the functioning of the entertainment and live entertainment industry in the wake of the pandemic? Something positive that will stay?
Despite this crisis, live entertainment will remain a multi-billion dollar industry around the world. Many live entertainment companies, including us, have embraced digital, re-evaluated their business models, and gotten leaner. In the future, we will launch new productions at a more measured pace, continuing to focus on quality, while visiting major cities in North America, Europe and Asia more often, all measures positive which will increase efficiency.
Are you a daredevil in your own recreation?
My temper is probably the opposite, although it can be said that dealing with the crises that constantly arise in a global live entertainment business has familiarized me with the concept of risk. Leaving my secure job as CEO of a major Canadian television network to join the circus in 2001 was a bold move, but one that I have never regretted for a single moment. It’s an exciting race that I still enjoy every day.
What are the next goals for you?
Continue to be a creativity evangelist. As the great German poet Goethe once said, “Anything you can do or dream of, start it. Boldness contains genius, power and magic.”