Lee Jones' Journal: "Flying the Plane"
I don't think this blog has a great deal of traction outside the poker community, so I'll assume that if you're reading this piece you're aware that PokerStars has recently consummated a deal to acquire the assets of Full Tilt Poker and we've settled with the U.S. Department of Justice. You can go to the official PokerStars announcement to get the details of the deal; I have nothing interesting to add to that.
However, shortly after the news broke, a friend of mine (not a PokerStars employee) said, "It must have been insane there in the lead-up to the deal - was everybody standing around talking about the latest news; was the whole company caught up in the deal?"
In fact, if you'd walked around our building on any given day, unless you accidentally wandered into the right one or two offices, the conversation you'd have heard was about the day-to-day business of running PokerStars. Which reminds me of a saying that pilots have.
A decade ago, my friend Eugene, who's a private pilot, took my stepson and me up in his single engine plane. I asked him, "I hate to ask a question like this, but if you drop dead of a heart attack in mid-air, what should I do? I mean, I've got my stepson here."
"Fortunately, pilots have a plan for just such a situation: 'Fly the plane'." As Eugene explained it, from an airplane pilot's perspective, no matter what else might be happening, no matter what concerns you have, your first job is to fly the plane. He then expanded on the point saying, "If I suddenly become incapacitated or dead, point the plane toward the biggest piece of open sky you can find, dial in this frequency on the radio, and just announce that you have a problem. People will come on and help you. But whatever you do, fly the plane."
I thought that was good advice for many aspects of life. It's a pithy and concise reminder to stay focused on the single most important task at hand.
Here at PokerStars, with the drama of Black Friday, Full Tilt, the Department of Justice, you know the litany... well, you might expect that we'd get wrapped up in it all. Obviously, there were some number of people whose job was directly involved with the Full Tilt and DoJ deal; they were working on like crazy people, sometimes around the clock. But for the large majority of us, not only was it not our job, it was simply an unneeded distraction from the very important business of running the largest (and best, in our opinion) poker site in the world.
After 35 years in the professional working world, having seen my share of drama-induced distractions, I was exceptionally proud of how we dealt with it. One of best things about working for PokerStars is the professionalism of the people who work there. In fact, Daniel Negreanu commented about that when he came out and visited us on the Isle of Man a few months ago. After getting a tour of the office and doing a (standing-room-only) Q&A session with the staff, his parting comment was, "This is a real office with people who obviously care about doing their jobs well. This makes me even more proud to be associated with PokerStars."
Obviously, we're delighted to close this particular chapter of the company's history book and we're excited about working with the people at Full Tilt Poker to take the online poker industry to the next level. But while the details were being sorted out, we just kept at it - we had a job to do.
So my answer to my friend who asked about what it was like inside the PokerStars office: "Drama? Nah, man - we've just been flying the plane."
Lee Jones is the head of Home Games at PokerStars and has been involved in the professional poker world for over 25 years. You can read his occasional Twitter-bites at @leehjones.