The responsibility of the role is Stéphane Lefebvre’s favourite part of his job (Photograph by LM Chabot)
As far as Stéphane Lefebvre knows, the headhunter who called to offer him a job in the C-suite at Cirque du Soleil in the summer of 2015 had no clue that the now 54-year-old CPA was a dedicated arts aficionado.
Lefebvre, who was promoted to CEO at Cirque du Soleil last December, played classical piano as a child in Chambly, Quebec and grew up admiring the works of Robert Schumann and other classical greats. While studying business administration and management at HEC Montreal, he got his first taste of working on the numbers side of entertainment when a professor, who had a side gig putting on rock shows around Montreal, hired him to help with the accounting. An all-access pass to the local music scene was a major perk. “I got to go to shows for free and mingle with the artists backstage,” Lefebvre recalls. “That was an amazing experience for me. It’s one thing to see an artist on stage, and something else entirely to meet and make connections with them.”
When the world’s largest contemporary circus production company came calling decades later, it felt like the stars were aligning. “I was interested in the fantasy of working for Cirque du Soleil,” says Lefebvre, who moved steadily up the ranks since joining in 2016—first as CFO, then COO and, now, its newest president and CEO.
But even Lefebvre wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of dropping a lucrative career and joining the circus.
At the time he was headhunted, Lefebvre was VP and CFO at Montreal-based flight simulator firm CAE, where he had worked for 20 years. It was a good gig. CAE operates all over the world meaning, over the years, Lefebvre’s job took him from an initial posting in London to Italy, Brazil, India and Australia, among other destinations. The work was interesting, his globetrotting lifestyle was satisfying and he was in no hurry to leave the company. But ultimately, Lefebvre was swayed by the allure of Cirque du Soleil’s creative brand and the prospect of merging a career with his lifelong passion for the arts.
After graduating HEC Montreal in 1991, Lefebvre got a job at Pricewaterhouse (before its merger with Coopers & Lybrand) where he worked until 1997, earning his CPA designation during that time and working primarily on mergers and acquisitions, and insolvency financing. He also spent a few years on the board of two small Montreal theatre companies, helping with paperwork and handling the books. An inlet to the arts world was a welcome bonus. “I became a part of it, even though I wasn’t really creatively involved,” he says. “I got to attend the shows and observe the creative process. I remember they put on a play called Le Portrait de Famille and I was in the audience almost every night.”
Eventually, the demands of a full-time finance job caught up with him, and Lefebvre took a step back from working in the entertainment world. But his interest in it never dwindled. Throughout his 20-year career at CAE he spent weekends attending musical or theatrical shows—including Cirque du Soleil, where he was mesmerized by an early production of O, the one-of-a-kind water-based production that debuted in Las Vegas in 1998.
“You hear about the expression ‘think outside the box,’” says Lefebvre. “Well, for Cirque du Soleil, there is no box.”
In 2015, Cirque du Soleil was in the midst of a major executive restructuring process. Company founder Guy Laliberté had just sold his majority stake in the company to an investor group led by private equity firm TPG Inc. Its leadership group—longtime CEO Daniel Lamarre and COO Jonathan Tétrault—wanted a profitability-minded CFO with operations experience to implement a strategic plan.
“This company is such a creative powerhouse. When I considered joining, I thought it can do even more than it’s already done.” Lefebvre says. “Plus, it was such a cool industry to work in.”
Instead of retiring older shows after 12-15 years, Lefebvre sees the company’s past productions, such as Kurios, like classic albums that fans can revisit (Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil)
It was relatively smooth sailing at first—until the pandemic hit in 2020. Suddenly, the company went into survival mode in a matter of days. At the time, they had a show being staged in Italy, where the pandemic first hit hardest, and the company scrambled to find another city in Europe to send the production. Six days later, all Cirque du Soleil shows—46 total both in production and actively running—were shut down. “We went from more than a billion-dollars in revenue to nothing,” he says.
On June 30, 2020, the company filed for bankruptcy protection from its creditors to restructure its capital. By that November, it emerged from creditor protection and closed the sale of the firm to a group led by Catalyst Capital Group.
As part of the business case to the new investors, 68-year-old CEO Lamarre retained his position and presented a succession planthat would see Lefebvre promoted to COO and, eventually, take over his role. “It was no secret that Daniel was not planning on being around [the company] for the next 10 years,” says Lefebvre. “I became much more focused on value creation. We came up with a plan for the company to become more efficient, less capital intensive, and capable of growth.” As Lefebvre moved into the CEO role beginning in December 2021, that plan has more or less stayed the course, even as Cirque continues to weather the ongoing fallout of the pandemic.
One of his first moves was lowering overhead at the company’s Montreal headquarters. He reduced the number of staff there and gave decision-making power to employees who were actively working in operations. The next step was a total revamp of the company’s timelines.
With a few exceptions, Cirque du Soleil produces a big top show every two years, after which it tours worldwide. “The model was to take the show offline after 12 to 15 years of touring and replace it with a new one. That’s not cheap,” says Lefebvre. “You’re deploying capital that doesn’t create growth, but just replaces what you’ve decided to remove.”
Risk management is more important than ever, says Peter Graham, media and entertainment specialist at KPMG. “Before [the pandemic], if a show was green lit and started selling tickets, you thought your risk was over,” he says “Now, we have a somewhat reluctant public, and when you think of the investments needed to re-launch shows, you need to do things to encourage ticket sales, like refund options.”
Looking at the bigger picture, Lefebvre wants to utilize the company’s rich catalogue of successful shows. He sees the company’s productions like classic albums that fans continually revisit. He references Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios, a steampunk-style production with a jazz and electro-swing score, centred on a late 19th-century inventor who creates a machine that bends the laws of physics. The show is set to return to Toronto for a second run from mid-April to the end of May. “I’m convinced it will be a success,” he says, “even though it’s run there before.” A 2014 review from the Montreal Gazette declared that Kurios “runs like clockwork and could tick on forever”—which is precisely Lefebvre’s new strategy.
Cirque du Soleil performances, including touring shows like Luzia, are slowly making their way back to the stage (Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil)
Another production, Luzia—a show centred on the richness of Mexican culture—is currently on its second run at London’s specially refitted Royal Albert Hall. “We wondered how it was going to perform after going into the same market with the same show for the second time,” says Lefebvre. “And we’re doing fantastically.” In late January, the show beat a weekly sales record as fans returned to theatres in the U.K. after COVID-19 restrictions were loosened. Lefebvre envisions extending the life cycle of the average Cirque du Soleil big top show.
The company also plans to tailor smaller shows to specific markets, rather than pushing every big top show worldwide. “We’ll do a less-capital intensive show that caters to their specific market,” Lefebvre promises.
Graham sees an opportunity in gearing shows toward younger audiences as well. “Can they rekindle their success? I don’t see why not,” he says. “They have proved it time and time again by coming out with new content and attracting spectators.”
Offstage, he’d like to re-envision the entire fan experience. “Before working there, I can’t count how many times I’ve gone to a show at Cirque du Soleil and left to get a drink somewhere else. Even though the big top environment is amazing,” he says, “there isn’t much to do in the tent before and after the show. I want to offer a richer experience.” Lefebvre did not go so far as to say exactly what that will look like, but promises changes are coming soon.
As if being tasked with turning around a legacy brand during a chaotic pandemic isn’t enough, Lefebvre recently took on a new project: teaching his oldest child to play classical piano. And not just on any old instrument, but a vintage family heirloom he stubbornly refuses to replace. “When I brought it to the repair shop, the guy told me, ‘It’s not worth it. I can sell you a much better one for the same price it takes to fix this one,” he says. “But I couldn’t get rid of it.”
Lefebvre’s ultimate musical dream? Mastering Schumann’s notoriously difficult Fantasie in C major. But he admits that will likely have to wait until retirement. For now, he’s focused on rescuing a Canadian treasure and building a new legacy.
“My role is to think about the message and emotions we want to leave the audience with,” he says. “One thing I insist on is inspiring surprise. Cirque du Soleil has to surprise people.”
Lefebvre’s job operates in the big picture, which is where he says his CPA chops and wealth of corporate finance experience come in handy. Creativity is the soul of the company, but it takes a guy who knows his numbers to keep that creativity in business. But Lefebvre’s other side allows him to take part in meetings where artistic decisions are made. “I can’t believe I’m paid to be a part of those conversations,” he says. “I find the meetings about artistic direction absolutely fascinating.”
That comes of little surprise to his predecessor. “At the end of the day, what makes the company work is the quality of its shows," says Lamarre. "Thinking about quality is the first thing the leader should do, and that takes a real sensitivity to the creative process, which Stéphane certainly has. The creators and artists can feel it. They don’t see him as just the former CFO of the company, but as someone who puts a lot of effort into supporting the creative team. That’s key for the future of our organization.”
Lefebvre straddles a fine line around creative control. “When he passed the CEO position on to me, Daniel told me ‘You’re the ultimate executive producer of this company. If something goes wrong, people will always point at you.’ I feel the weight of that responsibility,” he says. “It’s my favourite part of the job.”
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Cirque du Soleil uses several concepts to build their business model including: multiple productions that provide the opportunity for multiple visits per customer; cost reductions through the use of yearly productions allowing for faster recovery of fixed costs; the elimination of big name high cost acts; and the ...What happened to Cirque du Soleil? ›
Cirque du Soleil files for bankruptcy protection after COVID-19 forces it to shut 44 productions worldwide.How did Cirque du Soleil start? ›
In 1984, Québec City was celebrating the 450th anniversary of Canada's discovery by Jacques Cartier, and they needed a show that would carry the festivities out across the province. Guy Laliberté presented a proposal for a show called Cirque du Soleil (Circus of the Sun) and succeeded in convincing the organizers.What company owns Cirque du Soleil? ›
On 24 November 2020, it was announced that the company emerged from bankruptcy and was sold to former MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren and Canadian investment company Catalyst Capital.What made Cirque du Soleil strategy successful? ›
One crucial factor that helped it succeed was that Cirque du Soleil did away with the animals normally associated with circuses like Barnum and Bailey's or the Ringling Brothers. Instead, it focused on acrobatics in one big tent.What is Cirque du Soleil competitive advantage? ›
Based on Porter's generic strategies, competitive advantages of Cirque were differentiation and cost leadership simultaneously, which is rare. Unique resources and capabilities allowed the business to achieve this rare competitive advantage. Unique resources concentrated in intangible assets and human resources.Will Cirque du Soleil ever come back? ›
Cirque du Soleil celebrates its return to the Old Port of Montreal with KOOZA! MONTREAL, May 19, 2022 – The atmosphere was at its peak under the Big Top last night for the return of Cirque du Soleil in the Old Port of Montreal.How did the Cirque performer dies? ›
In 2018, Yann Arnaud died after suffering injuries from a fall during the "Volta" show.What happened to Cirque du Soleil during the pandemic? ›
From the very beginning of the outbreak of the coronavirus, Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group took rigorous measures to protect its work teams and the public. Our priority has always been and remains the health and safety of our artists, partners and various employees, but also of our public.Why is Cirque du Soleil so famous? ›
Since its initial performance in Quebec in 1984, Cirque du Soleil has evolved into one of the world's most famous live spectacles. Cirque du Soleil's range of performances have transformed over the years, yet the core elements of spectacle, storytelling and imagination have remained at the heart of this circus giant.
By breaking the market boundaries of theater and circus, Cirque du Soleil gained a new understanding not only of circus customers but also of circus noncustomers: adult theater customers. Cirque du Soleil created a new market space in the entertainment sector, generating strong, profitable growth as a result.How Cirque du Soleil revolutionized the circus? ›
Cirque du Soleil changed the nature of the show and thus decreased significant costs common to the industry. They removed animal acts and their associated care, training, transportation, and housing. Instead of three rings, their shows feature one stage, reducing the number of performers needed.Who are Cirque du Soleil competitors? ›
Cirque du Soleil's top competitors include ITE Group, Live Nation Entertainment, Creative Artists Agency and Tuyap.Who is the CEO of Cirque du Soleil? ›
Cirque du Soleil is likely an organization you've heard about. Maybe you have attended one of their dazzling shows in Las Vegas. However, you may not be as familiar with the company's CEO, Daniel Lamarre.How much is Cirque du Soleil worth? ›
A majority interest in Cirque du Soleil, one of the largest live entertainment groups in the world, will be sold to private equity firm TPG Capital, according to a Tuesday press release. While the financial terms remain undisclosed, multiple reports price the deal at approximately $1.5 billion.How successful is Cirque du Soleil? ›
Cirque's productions have been seen by more than 150 million spectators in more than 300 cities around the world. In less than twenty years since its creation, Cirque du Soleil achieved a level of revenues that took Ringling Bros.How does Cirque du Soleil promote their shows? ›
Sometimes it's about being in the right place at the right time.” That means Cirque du Soleil capitalizes on traditional out-of-home tactics like taxi toppers and marquis ads, as well as videos in taxis to create awareness and buzz. “Some things are not spectacular at all,” Derricks said.What is differentiation strategy? ›
Differentiation Strategy Defined
Your differentiation strategy is the way in which you make your firm stand out from otherwise similar competitors in the marketplace. Usually, it involves highlighting a meaningful difference between you and your competitors. And that difference must be valued by your potential clients.
Cirque Du Soleil was able to gain and sustain a competitive advantage due to its blue oceans strategy, which combines cost-leadership and differentiation strategies through value innovation.What is Cirque du Soleil value proposition? ›
Based on the factors mentioned above, Cirque du Soleil's value proposition is “Cirque du Soleil offers an unparalleled show combining plays, music, and dance in an ideal environment to create an illusion of fascination for our visitors and create a memorable experience of the show offered.”
What factors contributed to Cirque du Soleil losing its competitive advantage look at both internal and external factors? ›
Look at both external and internal factors The major factor that contributed to Cirque du Soleil losing its competitive advantage would be the economic down turn of 2008-2010. During times of economic downturn, consumers do not have as much disposable income to spend for entertainment.Why was zumanity Cancelled? ›
Cirque Du Soleil's 'Zumanity' Permanently Closing Due to COVID-19.Which is better Mystere or O? ›
O is our favorite cirque show, has the most "wow" moments, but I would only suggest O over Mystere if you pay for the better seats, the O theater is the only cirque show that I firmly believe seating matters. Mystere is the best value cirque show, and also has awesome acrobatics.What is the newest Cirque du Soleil? ›
With nearly four decades at the forefront of groundbreaking entertainment, Cirque du Soleil will debut a completely new and wickedly fun Las Vegas production – Mad Apple – at New York-New York Hotel & Casino on May 26, 2022.How many deaths has Cirque du Soleil had? ›
Three Cirque du Soleil employees were injured, one of them fatally, in work-place related accidents in 2016, including Olivier Rochette, the son of one of the show's founders, who died after being hit by a telescopic lift. In 2013, performer Sarah Guillot-Guyard died after she fell during a live show in Las Vegas.How often do Cirque du Soleil performers get hurt? ›
Cirque du Soleil stunts look dangerous — but how dangerous are they really? This study found that there are a lot of minor injuries, almost ten per show. But less than one acrobat per show is hurt badly enough to miss more than 15 performances — and Cirque du Soleil puts a lot of people on stage.Which show of Cirque du Soleil is the best? ›
Mystere has a reputation for being the best among the top Cirque shows. This Cirque du Soleil performance takes you into the depths of the imagination. It fills your world with vibrant colors, jaw-dropping acrobatics, and not-so-usual interpretations of circus acts.How many shows does Cirque du Soleil have? ›
How many Cirque du Soleil shows are playing right now? Currently, there are 17 Cirque du Soleil shows being performed around the world.Is Cirque du Soleil safe? ›
Cirque du Soleil has 'excellent reputation' for safety, insurer says - The Globe and Mail.What is the meaning of Cirque du Soleil? ›
Cirque du Soleil (French: [sɪʁk dzy sɔ. lɛj], "Circus of the Sun" or "Sun Circus") is a Canadian entertainment company. It is the largest theatrical producer in the world.
Most performers make between $30,000 and $100,000 per year. Other Cirque employees are paid per show or hourly – it all depends on the job. Employees are offered shared accommodations at the Cirque Studios or traveling accommodations while on tour.What language does Cirque du Soleil speak? ›
In Alegria you will hear a mix of Spanish, Italian, English, French but most of the time you'll hear "Cirquish" - a made-up language by Cirque du Soleil!How does Cirque du Soleil promote their shows? ›
Sometimes it's about being in the right place at the right time.” That means Cirque du Soleil capitalizes on traditional out-of-home tactics like taxi toppers and marquis ads, as well as videos in taxis to create awareness and buzz. “Some things are not spectacular at all,” Derricks said.Who is Cirque du Soleil target market? ›
Cirque du Soleil has their target market geared more toward adults, rather than children. For their touring shows they promote locally, while for their permanent shows they advertise to tourists/vacationers coming into the area so the go various places and have multiple locations.What is Cirque du Soleil value proposition? ›
Based on the factors mentioned above, Cirque du Soleil's value proposition is “Cirque du Soleil offers an unparalleled show combining plays, music, and dance in an ideal environment to create an illusion of fascination for our visitors and create a memorable experience of the show offered.”How did Cirque du Soleil reinvent the circus business? ›
By breaking the market boundaries of theater and circus, Cirque du Soleil gained a new understanding not only of circus customers but also of circus noncustomers: adult theater customers. Cirque du Soleil created a new market space in the entertainment sector, generating strong, profitable growth as a result.Why are Cirque du Soleil performances so popular? ›
Since its initial performance in Quebec in 1984, Cirque du Soleil has evolved into one of the world's most famous live spectacles. Cirque du Soleil's range of performances have transformed over the years, yet the core elements of spectacle, storytelling and imagination have remained at the heart of this circus giant.What are the specific steps in the marketing management process? ›
- Step one: analyze. Analysis is the backbone of a data-driven marketing management process. ...
- Step 2: set clear goals. ...
- Step 3: harness tools to stay on top of campaign progress. ...
- Step 4: implement automation. ...
- Step 5: monitor and review.
Instead it created uncontested market space that made the competition irrelevant. It appealed to a whole new group of customers: adults and corporate clients prepared to pay a price several times as great as traditional circuses for an unprecedented entertainment experience.Is Cirque du Soleil a disruptive innovation? ›
But, there's another kind of disruptive innovation – the kind of disruptive innovation that Renée Mauborgne talks about in the opening pages of his seminal book, Blue Ocean Strategy. He refers to “Le Cirque du Soleil” as a novel combination of theater and circus. This hybrid show draws different kinds of customers.
As to the barriers to entry, these include little media's attention to small-scale shows similar to the performance of Cirque and the existence of a variety of regulations concerning human resources management (especially safety issues) (Moutinho 2016).What are the issues facing Cirque du Soleil? ›
One of the ethical issues this company is facing and was facing was a discriminatory lawsuit with one of the performers in the circus who tested HIV positive and who was laid off due to the fact of the dangers of the job performing (high risk of injury) and possibly infecting others while on the job.What does Cirque du Soleil stand for? ›
Cirque du Soleil (French: [sɪʁk dzy sɔ. lɛj], "Circus of the Sun" or "Sun Circus") is a Canadian entertainment company. It is the largest theatrical producer in the world.