Founder | Cirque du Soleil
Once a penniless stilt walker and fire eater who slept on park benches, Guy Laliberté today is one of Canada's few globally recognized entrepreneurs. In 1984, he created Cirque du Soleil, an entertainment company now known for its awe-inspiring, gasp-inducing mix of traditional circus arts, modern aesthetic sensibilities and theatrical techniques. The company's nouveau cirque-style shows have been seen by more than 100 million people around the world, employ some 5,000 people from more than 20 countries on five continents, and generate annual revenue exceeding $810 million. Laliberté was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year globally in 2006.
But it's not just his shows — or his estimated net worth of $2.5 billion — that turns heads. In 2009, Laliberté became Canada's first space tourist, spending 11 days aboard the International Space Station.
Seeing Earth from that distance — as a "small and fragile planet" in relation to our vast universe, says Laliberté — further inspired his commitment to One Drop, a charity he co-founded in 2007 to give developing countries better access to water. He has since committed $100 million of his personal fortune to the non-profit organization. Says Laliberté: "I will continue to lend my voice and use our creativity to make our dream come true, one drop at a time, one step at a time, for future generations." It's a paradigm example of his mantra that life gives back what you have given.
More from PROFIT:
* The 30 best business practices of all time
* Quiz: The past 30 years of small business and economics
* Arlene Dickinson talks about the triumphs, mistakes and the value of a balanced life
* Sales compensation plans: How to motivate your employees