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Cirque du Soleil HR is Everywhere

January 1, 1997
Related Topics: The HR Profession, Featured Article
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In the early eighties, a group of young street performers pooled their talent and dreams and founded the "Club des Talons Hauts" or "High-Heels Club," aptly named because most of them were stilt-walkers. The Club also featured fire eaters, jugglers and other such entertainers. The members organized a festival and brought it under a big top. Cirque du Soleil was born.

Today, more than 10 million spectators have oohed and aahed over dazzling feats of acrobatics and comical burlesque.

How did you end up with this particular job in this industry?
I was working as a consultant, as a trouble-shooter. I would go to businesses, see what was going wrong and come up with an improvement plan. Cirque du Soleil asked my opinion regarding some HR problems. I was later contacted and offered a job. I came on in 1989 and became vice president in 1993.

What is your background?
My first training was in outdoor recreational facilities. That's what my college degree is in. I worked in summer camps and worked with handicapped people for five years.

What are the biggest challenges of your industry?
For the next five years we'll be in growth mode. We're planning on expanding to six shows by 1999. My biggest challenge will be dealing with the fact that we're a multiterritorial company. Different laws are a challenge, multilanguages are a challenge and decentralizing power is a challenge.

What challenges do you feel are universal for HR?
Ensuring you realize the potential of your people, and take advantage of their diversity. If you're hiring people who all look alike, you're not enabling yourself to have a chance to confront new ideas. You have to be able to build different ideas and respect that.

How is HR viewed at your organization?
HR here is part of every strategic decision. I'm one of four people on the management team. But, we remember that HR is a service. We're not the leaders; we're not taking the business risks; but we do participate in the decision. HR policies should protect everyone and the company-not be restrictive but help out. We strike the balance between decisions and humans.

What is it about your job and/or your organization that makes you proud?
The product. Also, being one of the few organizations that can provide permanent work for artists. An artist can see the possibility of staying with the company for six to 10 years. The only other place an artist can work that long is maybe Las Vegas or on Broadway. We give 230 artists around the world full-time jobs.

What is "special" about HR at Cirque du Soleil?
We have an edge in staffing because people want to work for us. We receive 30 to 40 applications a day from people who want to be associated with our product. People who are already here have a real sense of belonging. Not everyone is in the shows, but every department is here to ensure we build good shows. That instills pride.

Workforce, January 1997, Vol. 76, No. 1, p. 94

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