Guy Laliberté’s rags to riches story is really one of the most extraordinary.
Laliberté was born on September 2, 1959, in Quebec City, Canada. He developed a passion for performing arts at a very young age after his parents brought him to a Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus that was travelling through town. Guy began producing his own performance art events in high school and became a proficient accordion and harmonica player. He would eventually drop out of his first year of college to follow his dreams.
His first job was “busking”, which is another word for a travelling street performer. He played music and juggled on his own until he was accepted into a performance troupe that hitched around the world putting on street shows that featured fire breathers, sword swallowers, acrobats and stilt walkers. Money was non-existent so eventually, Laliberté returned to Quebec to accept a full-time steady job at a hydro-electric power plant. Three days into his new steady job and the plant workers went on strike and Guy was fired.
Taking this as a sign from God, the newly unemployed and broke Laliberte swore to never work a normal job again and instead to devote himself 100% to performance art. Around this time, Guy began stilt walking with his future business partners Gilles Ste-Croix and Daniel Gauthier. In the early 80s, the three partners organized a summer performing arts fair in the city of Baie-Saint-Paul called “La Fēte Foraine” (The Carnival). “La Fēte Foraine” grew into a moderate financial success over the next few summers.
Guy Laliberte’s first job was “busking”, which is another word for a traveling street performer. He played music and juggled on his own until he was accepted into a performance troupe
In 1983 the government of Quebec offered a $1.5 million art grant to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s discovery of Canada. In order to impress the government and win the grant, Laliberté’s partner Gilles Ste-Croix walked 56 miles from Baie-Saint-Paul to Quebec City, on stilts! The stunt worked and the partners used the $1.5 million to create and launch “Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil”. This first version of Cirque was both a critical and financial success, producing a modest $40,000 profit.
In 1987, Guy put everything on the line when he took his entire circus to the Los Angeles Arts Festival to drum up new business. He spent every penny both he personally and the company had, to set up shop in California for several months. Years later, Guy admitted that had the show been unsuccessful, he would not have had enough money to bring his troupe back to Canada. Fortunately, the show was a smash hit and lead to $2 million worth of future contracts.
In 1992, Laliberté landed what would become the opportunity of a lifetime when casino mogul Steve Wynn signed Cirque to perform at Las Vegas’ Treasure Island Hotel. The crucial detail here is the fact that Guy Laliberté demanded full creative control of the show and refused to give up any ownership of his company to Wynn or sign an exclusive deal. The first show Cirque produced, “Mystere”, went on to sell out every single ticket in its first year and is still one of seven shows in permanent residence at Treasure Island.
Thanks to the success of “Mystere”, Guy Laliberte and Cirque du Soleil were the hottest show in Vegas. He also had no contract excluding them from setting up shop at other venues. Between the 1990s and 2000s, Cirque du Soleil expanded at a furious pace around the world. Having started with one show in 1990, Cirque would eventually perform for more than 100 million spectators in 300 cities around the world.
Today, Cirque du Solei has over 5000 employees, $1 billion in annual revenue and $250 million in annual profits. Along the way, Guy Laliberté has earned himself a personal fortune of $2.6 billion!!! The Vegas shows have a 97% sell-out rate and produce 60% of Cirque’s annual revenues.
Mr Laliberté still owns 80% of the company and has full creative control of each of his 10 travelling shows and 10 permanent shows, around the globe.
Thanks to the success of “Mystere”, Guy Laliberte and Cirque du Soleil were the hottest show in Vegas. He also had no contract excluding them from setting up shop at other venues
In addition to being a multi-billionaire circus CEO, Guy Laliberte is a passionate philanthropist, space traveller and professional poker player. Laliberté’s “One Drop” foundation is dedicated to giving poor people access to clean water and is funded by a personal donation of $100 million by Guy himself. In September 2009, Laliberte became the first private Canadian space tourist.
He paid $41.8 million in 2009 to be blasted into outer space for a 12-day trip in a Russian rocket, and at the time of the space trip, he was the company’s controlling shareholder.
Laliberté has recently embarked on a new career as an international DJ. He is co-owner of the nightclub Le Heart in Ibiza and frequently spins tunes there. He has also DJed in New York City and Los Angeles, and he was the headline DJ at one of the main parties during Grand Prix weekend in Montreal this summer.
And now he is literally building a pyramid that will be the Montreal venue to showcase his DJ work. It will cost $15 million to build the pyramid, which is under construction in Varennes, and another $10 to $15 million to create the show.
“The first show is a 3D show. … It’s a journey about our origins. Where we come from. We’re all stardust. It’s a journey from the big bang to today.”
Still, there’s no denying there will be DJ parties and that the Cirque du Soleil founder will be one of the star DJs there. And he’ll be throwing thematic dance parties — say, one where everyone has to try to go back to their childhood years.
He was broadcast to 14 cities on 5 continents, including the International Space Station. Laliberté is romantically involved with Claudia Barilla, and they have two children together.
Guy Laliberté doesn’t seem to worry much about the price of what he wants in life.