A Picture of 2007

June 10, 2013

You know, it’s just a picture of a bunch of PokerStars employees at an event they worked. But sometimes, the story behind the picture…

It was 2007 at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA). I vaguely remember us gathering for the picture; I think it was the day of the main event final table at which Ryan Daut won $1.5 million. That’s been over six years ago, so details are sketchy. I do recall that we had to hold the closing party indoors because of weather. I stood behind main event runner-up Isaac (“Ike”) Haxton in the buffet line. He was in a mathematics or philosophy grad program (or considering a grad program) at the time, but said to me, “I think I’m going to take some time off and play full time.” How’d that work out, Ike?


The PokerStars PCA crew of 2007

Anyway, the picture. Unless I’m grossly mistaken, the group that you see in this image represents essentially the entire PokerStars staff for the 2007 PCA. And here are the two things that I take away:

First, that’s a pretty small group to be running a pretty big event. But we’ve always had that attitude at PokerStars: it’s not how many people you throw at something; it’s how good those people are and how hard they work. Setting myself aside for the moment, I’ll tell you that you’re looking at an awesome bunch of folks, who put in absurd hours to make the 2007 PCA a success. The guy far right on the front row, Mike Hudson, said to me (when he saw the size of the group), “I recall thinking we were understaffed.” Yeah, we probably were. But man, I was proud to be part of that understaffed group; we put on an awesome event.

Second – and this is powerful stuff – that image was taken about six and half years ago. Of the 19 people you see in the picture, 18 are PokerStars employees (we believe that the woman third from left in the center row was an employee of the event management company we hired). Of those 18 PokerStars employees, 14 work for PokerStars today. In just about any modern business, that 78% retention six years later would be considered (forgive the pun) stellar. In the online gaming business, it’s off the charts.

But wait – I have a couple of more folks to count. I am fairly sure that Leonard Geylikman, the President and CEO of the PokerStars PCA Bank, was there that year, but he would have been in his secure back room, counting money. He’s still the guy who keeps the PCA bank running (when he’s not doing his regular job). And it also occurs to me that the guy behind the lens in this picture may well have been Neil Stoddart, who is still the senior shooter at what seems like every PokerStars event.

If I’m right about those two guys, we’re talking about a .800 retention batting average after six years, a number that makes HR people swoon.

One of the key ways that companies succeed is by “attracting and retaining” the best possible people. There are myriad reasons why PokerStars continues to attract and retain but this is not the time or medium to expound on the point.

I simply want to note that there is something about this company that causes people to be willing to work very long hours in often difficult situations. And then keep signing up to do it again and again, year after year.

Lee Jones is the Head of Poker Communications at PokerStars; he first joined the company in 2003. He has been involved in the professional poker world since the mid 1980’s.


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