Midas touch of Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil is a phenomenal success story. In 20 years it has carved out a unique niche in the entertainment industry, performing in cities all over the globe and earning rave reviews. By pushing the envelope on innovative entertainment it has created some of the best shows in Las Vegas and the world.

by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

Financially the Cirque has never lost the Midas touch. Its assets are worth more than $1 billion, annual ticket sales $500 million, and over 50 million people in more than 100 cities on four continents have seen its shows. The Cirque is the world's fastest-growing diversified live entertainment conglomerate, achieving 15% growth annually.

Cirque du Soleil has been described as the first modern circus combining universal themes with amazing performances, outlandish costumes, original lighting and music, and talented artists. It recruits acts from different circuses all over the world, blending them into its own unique style. A fusion of street theatre, mime, puppetry, circus, opera, ballet and rock music, productions offer dazzling feats of physical skill, illusion and burlesque.

Interestingly, the Cirque gives no special billing for cast or creators: the creative product is the result of a team effort. But managing a company full of creative people requires a major balancing act between keeping artists happy and consistently attracting more spectators. While the Cirque invests an enormous amount in recruiting and retaining talent, annual turnover of personnel hovers around 20%.

Among the questions thrown up by the case: Can Cirque du Soleil continue to produce "extreme creativity" time and again? Clearly, the counter-cultural creative commune has metamorphosed into a hard-nosed, profit-wise conglomerate, but will the structure keep up with its growth? Or must growth inevitably come at the price of the Cirque's soul? As it becomes increasingly corporate, how long before the "suits" take over from the "creators"? And what will happen when founder Guy Laliberté steps down?

Written by Manfred Kets de Vries, the Raoul de Vitry d'Avaucourt Chaired Professor of Leadership Development at INSEAD, the case challenges students to reflect upon how organisations foster creativity and the juggling act that is required to reconcile the creative spirit with the pace of growth and the need to keep growing.

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