President and COO, Cirque Du Soleil
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL AS CANADIAN AMBASSADORS
Chairman: Bart J. Mindszenthy
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
William (Bill) Sinclair, Council Member, The Royal Commonwealth Society Essay Contest Adjudicator; Annelies McConnachie-Howarth, Grade 12 Student, North Toronto Collegiate Institute; Rev. Canon Kimberley Beard, Senior Pastor, St. Paul's On-the-Hill Anglican Church and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; James D.M. Stewart, Canadian and World Studies Department, Bishop Strachan School and Great Grandfather Founding Member of The Empire Club of Canada; Michael Khan, Grade 12 Student, Applewood Heights Secondary School and Winner of Class A Essay Competition; Douglas Grant, President, United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada; Paul Altherr, COO, Art Gallery of Ontario; Edward (Ed) Badovinac, Director, The Empire Club of Canada, Chairman of The Empire Club Year Book and Member, Royal Commonwealth Society; MGen. Bruce J. Legge, Founder, The Royal Commonwealth Society and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; Jo-Ann McArthur, President, Molson Sports and Entertainment and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; John Jenner, Vice-President, Marketing and Sponsorships, CIBC; and Michael Frederiksen, Chairman, Royal Commonwealth Society-Toronto.
Introduction by Bart Mindszenthy
Ladies and gentlemen, the dictionary tells us that "magic" is defined as "conjuring tricks and illusions that make apparently impossible things seem to happen, usually performed as entertainment."
Now, on a cynical level you might interpret that as a definition of how some practise the art of politics. But you might also elect to think about an amazing Canadian phenomenon called the Cirque du Soleil. And you might choose to use the word "magical" defined as "so beautiful or pleasing as to seem supernaturally created."
Well, I've yet to meet anyone who's ever been to a Cirque du Soleil event who wouldn't consider it magical. And spellbinding. And creative.
And it seems especially appropriate that at this, our annual Canada Day lunch, we have to address us the President and Chief Operating Officer of Cirque du Soleil.
He represents a Quebec-based creative force that's got a global impact--a Canadian expression of creativity that from its most humble beginnings steadily gained courage, confidence, momentum, and respect.
In fact, Daniel Lamarre himself is an example of personal creativity harnessed and applied.
With grounding in journalism and public relations, Mister Lamarre for more than a dozen years was a senior executive at National Public Relations, latterly as President. In fact, I first met him in the mid-1980s there, while National started its strong march to becoming Canada's only domestic national public relations firm of note.
He then became President and CEO of TVA Group, Quebec's largest private television broadcaster, and served on several prestigious boards.
And then in January 2001, he, as it were, grabbed the brass ring, and soaring to new heights, joined what has to be one of the most amazing, living, ever-changing Canadian exports ever conceived.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming to the podium of the Empire Club of Canada, the President and Chief Operating Officer of Cirque du Soleil, Daniel Lamarre.
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, it is really a privilege for me to be with you today to celebrate Canada Day, because I really think that one of the reasons for the success of Cirque du Soleil so far is because we're Canadian and as Canadian, and I cannot underline this too much, we have 42 nationalities working at Cirque du Soleil. And why is that? Because Canada is a country where people like to come, like to visit us, like to stay with us and love to share our values. And we're blessed. We're blessed and that's why I feel blessed today to have the privilege of having the very tough task of presenting to you our organization.
When I signed the Empire Club book before coming into this room, I was touched, because there were some amazing names signed before me in that book. And frankly, who am I? Because my title says COO, I would strongly recommend that we change my title to COC, which is chief of clowns. And I'm very proud of that.
Every time I watch this video it impresses me, because maybe you did not notice but one of the guys at the beginning of the video was Guy Laliberté. He was the one who created Cirque du Soleil. I'll never forget my first day at the job when I came back and told my kids that my bus was spitting fire. My daughter said: "Good luck Dad."
What did I learn from Guy Laliberté? I have to be very modest. I come from your world. I come from the corporate world and when I joined Cirque du Soleil I didn't know what to expect and for your information the name of Guy, the founder, Laliberté, if I were to translate it, means freedom. And no one represents freedom more than our founder. He's the one who never wanted to compromise about creativity. So I'm learning from the university of Mr. Freedom. And that's a joy, really it's a joy.
So let me tell you the story. Guy Laliberté didn't have a master plan. When he left home at the age of 14, he just wanted to see the world and have some fun. Fun is part of our organization. If there is no fun, there is no creativity. If there is no creativity, there is no show.
So his first break after working with a bunch of hippies in a small village was to have a mandate from the Quebec government to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the arrival of Jacques Cartier in the new world. Laliberté pitched to them the idea of founding a street performance festival. The rest of it is history. It was an amazing successful show.
For two years, Guy was struggling with his organization because unfortunately, as we all know, the weather in Canada doesn't allow us to play in a tent 12 months a year. So after two years of struggling, he organized a meeting with all of his artists and he said: "Guys, this is not going to work here. We need to go abroad. I'm bringing the big tent to Los Angeles and if it works we're in business. And if it doesn't work we will just forget it."
The artists looked at him and said: "You know Guy, we're willing. We are really willing to follow you and go to Los Angeles with you. But what's going to happen if it doesn't work? How are we going to get back to Montreal?"
And Guy said: "Simple. I will sell the big top and with the money I will gather I will pay you your airplane tickets and you'll come back."
So they went to Los Angeles and they were there for three weeks to rehearse prior to the opening and Guy was nowhere to be seen. Guy was travelling in all the nightclubs there were in Los Angeles. He was partying with all the big stars from Hollywood. And he was inviting them to come to the première. So on the première night everybody couldn't understand why all the big names of Hollywood were there--Tom Cruise and Spielberg and others. They were coming to meet their new buddy Guy who they had been partying with. And after that it became the talk of the town. Everybody in Los Angeles wanted to see Cirque du Soleil because it was the new big thing.
Since then we have been growing at a very rapid pace. We now have six touring shows, we have four permanent shows in Vegas and will open a fifth one in Vegas next June, we have a permanent show in Orlando, I just signed a deal for a permanent show in Tokyo and we're blessed. We're really, really lucky.
The reason why we are where we are--and every time I meet financial analysts who are bankers they always question me about the business model--is the business model works in the reverse way than normal. The business model is creation drives the organization.
I have the privilege to have with me today the Executive Vice-President of Creation. She is the important one in our organization and having been with Cirque du Soleil for a full year now she understands exactly how exciting it is to work for our organization.
So imagine 10 years ago when Michael Eisner came to Guy Laliberté and said: "You know I would like to have Cirque du Soleil," and Guy Laliberté said: "I want to have creative control."
Eisner said: "I have never done that."
And Guy said: "You have no choice."
So we have this famous sentence in our corporate video when Eisner says: "If I would've had the choice, I would have bought Cirque du Soleil. If I had been able to recreate Cirque du Soleil shows I would have done so. But because I couldn't buy them and I cannot duplicate what they are doing I had no choice but to give creative control to Cirque du Soleil."
That's our philosophy. We always like to push the boundaries. Right now do we feel comfortable? Not at all. There is no comfort zone. We are trying to push the envelope all the time and in order to illustrate that to you I would like to give you the scoop today and a preview of our new show that is going to start in Toronto on August 4, so let's have some images of our new show.
So Cirque du Soleil over the years has become an international incubator. An international laboratory of creation. The Americans don't understand yet why this laboratory is based in Canada, because from their perspective it should be located in Los Angeles where all the business is happening. The main reason why it's in our country is because it is much easier for us to host people coming from all over the world, because they know that they will be well treated here and most importantly, that they are going to be respected for what they do. So that's what is happening in Montreal. People coming from different nationalities having no choice but to work together.
My biggest pleasure is to see in one room a Canadian working with a Japanese, working with a Brit, working with an American and we lock the door and we say: "Do a show together." And that's what we are all about. That's why our shows are international. It is not artificial. It's people from different cultures working together, making sure that the final show that they put together will live forever.
A touring show of Cirque du Soleil will tour for five years in North America, four years in Europe, one year in Japan, one year in Australia, two to five years in Asia-Pacific, one year in Mexico, and one additional year now in South America. I guess that's why I'm here today because we are your ambassadors. We love to travel the world and tell people about who we are. We're truly, truly Canadian. We're French-Canadian speaking, working with 42 different nationalities. We're creative people who want to push the boundaries of creativity all the time. It is a tough call for a business guy like me to say all the time that we should accept creativity to drive the show.
I had the amazing thrill two days ago to sign a contract with the Beatles. We will have a Beatle show in Las Vegas starting next week and I feel so honoured to see my name side by side with the Beatles for a partnership--a 50-per-cent partnership with the Beatles-not only to produce that show in Vegas but to bring in a lot of different initiatives. They had refused all other entertainment organizations for the last 25 years to do anything with their brand. And now they have selected a bunch of street performers to carry the brand of the Beatles.
As you can see, I could talk to you forever about my passion for Cirque du Soleil, but in all respect for you important people I would just like to summarize very briefly in saying one of the main reasons for our success has nothing to do with what I have just said.
The main reason for our success is Guy has decided that 1 per cent of our revenues, not of our profits, will go back to social responsibility programs. We have a program where we are helping kids, youth at risk, from the street. We help them to come back in their life. So imagine the image: a bunch of street performers 21 years ago are now back in the street helping kids at risk.
The second reason why we are successful is at the end of the year I meet all the employees around the world. I travel and meet each of them to report back to them and share profit with them.
The third reason for our success is we reinvest most of our profit in new initiatives doing a lot of research and development.
I didn't read in any management book about those rules. When I saw the people from Harvard wanting to do a business case about us I didn't know what to say. We are only a bunch of clowns who are doing what they love to do--entertaining people. And I reminded them that in the word "show-business," show comes first.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Michael Frederiksen, Chairman, Royal Commonwealth Society--Toronto.