Hermance Blum

Hermance Blum

Monday, 22 September 2014

The Power Behind the Poker

Hermance Blum has always been one of the friendliest people in poker, but don't let that fool you – she is certainly a lady who knows what she's doing. After a meteoric rise through the industry ranks, she's now landed one of poker's top jobs – the General Manager of the World Poker Tour (WPT) Europe. She caught up with Bluff Europe to spill the beans about what it's like running one of the biggest poker tours in the world.

Poker Beginnings

“I first got into poker in 2008. It all started with a PR agency I used to work with in the IT/consumer electronics industry. One day, they just talked to me at a party completely randomly and said they were going to sign the biggest online poker website – PokerStars! They said they'd like me for the account, and to do business development for the PR agency. Straightaway it was an insta-yes, where do I sign?! That's how I started – as a PR consultant for PokerStars. Very soon after – not even six months – I joined internally to take over communication and marketing for France for PokerStars. When the market opened in 2010, there were a lot of opportunities, and a good one came along with partypoker. It's kind of strange, because when I took the job at partypoker I always had the WPT in sight – it was always something I aspired to. It just seemed to be a natural shift, and that's why they offered me the role to join them and be their PR and Marketing Manager in 2011. That's how I made my way to London!”

Loving the Game

“I love poker, and I enjoy playing when I have the chance. I played the Ladies' Event at the WSOP last year and I cashed, so that was a great experience. I also play a good amount of side events, media events, and even staff tournaments. Texas Hold'em is my game – I don't play Omaha, but I love watching it. I love all kinds of poker, to be honest. I even played Indian Poker once, and I won. Basically, you still draw the flop, but instead of looking at your cards you hold them on your forehead, and have to bet according to what you think you have from looking at other people's cards. It's hilarious.”

Women in Poker

“Although poker has become a lot more mainstream, it still remains quite niche overall. I think being a woman was more challenging when I first entered the industry, but now it's actually an advantage. People have got to know me along the years as we've worked together; I try to put a lot of myself and my own personality into business, and I think people value that a lot. Maybe being managed by a woman is sometimes a bit softer – we're more about compromise, and trying to find a positive outcome. It's about trying to have the smoothest conversation, where everything falls into place naturally. I think it's mostly an advantage to be a woman in the industry, in a nice way – because men enjoy dealing with women! I don't feel that there's any competition.”

I think that the perception of women in gaming will evolve as one progresses with their career path. Adam Pliska, President of the WPT, recently highlighted that more than half of WPT’s senior leadership are now women, reflecting the evolving face of this industry.

Favourite WPT Stop

“That's a very difficult one. Cyprus is always a favourite of mine, because of the location, the all-inclusive benefits and the holiday atmosphere. The one I'm really looking forward to is our UK festival in Nottingham in Dusk Till Dawn. I've known them for a long time, but have only been able to start working with them very recently when we decided to create this event. That is one that I am very excited about. They know everything about the market and poker, and it's thrilling to work with people that share the same enthusiasm and the same energy. So maybe this one will become my favourite one – we'll have to see! Marrakech is nice, Cannes is beautiful, and so is Paris. Also, it's really compelling to see the WPT expanding to new locations in Eastern Europe and Kazakhstan, for example. Venice is amazing – as soon as you walk into the casino, there's this whole history that surrounds you – it's the oldest casino in Europe. I think overall we take our players to VERY nice locations. It's part of the promise we give to the players for WPT – they can come to a nice casino, but also be able to enjoy themselves outside of the felt.”

Planning for the Unplanned

“You've got to be adaptable, and be able to make decisions straightaway, which is how I'm trying to train my team. You have to have an eye for detail, because if you don't it's very easy to make mistakes. In tournaments there's a lot of security issues involved, and you've got to be very meticulous in your job. It's a skill that you develop, but it's probably also something that you have naturally as well.

You can't be scared of things not going to plan, you just have to address them – and sometimes you have fall-outs. The branding might not be delivered correctly, and there's nothing you can do about it. You just assess the situation and keep calm, because people are counting on you. Always have an understanding of the big picture, and think about what's the biggest thing that needs to get dealt with first, and what can wait a bit. Otherwise everything becomes an emergency, and that can't work! [laughs]. You have to address everything, and make sure that everybody feels listened to and understood.”

Getting on the Ladder

“It's very interesting, because about a year ago my old university invited me along with a few other former students to come and talk about our jobs. Working in online gaming is pretty unusual, so I got a lot of questions. Everyone said, “But it's so hard to get into marketing and communications now, there's no jobs!” But it was the same when I got a job, and there are opportunities if you look for them.

You've got to have a natural instinct for it. When it came to hiring my team, I obviously wanted people that were prepared and had good experience, but the most important thing is the type of personality. They need to have that sparkle, and to be engaged with the role before they've even started it. You have to be a problem-solver who can connect the dots.

It can get complicated in every industry, but in gaming specifically there are countless layers of regulations and discussions about online poker and licensing. You have to be curious, and someone that is always learning.

Most of all, you have to be organised and able to deal with stressful situations in a calm way. You have to be able to breathe in and breathe out, and keep things in perspective. Also, an ability to cope with a lifestyle that is different from the norm. I recently interviewed a girl and she loved the job description, and seemed really keen – then the day after she called and told me that she didn't think she could cope with all the travel, and wanted to be more settled down. We are blessed that we get to see the world, but I know that it's not for everyone. I try and make all team members feel valued for what they bring to the business, because if they're not fully on board with the lifestyle then it just won't work.”

An Unconventional Family

“Because of the nature of our job, we really operate like a family. I'm not saying that just because it sounds nice, it's true! We work very extensive hours; usually we'll get up at 8 or 9 to catch up with our emails and do some office work, then we'll be at the casino for shuffle up and deal, as well as prepping for the players to arrive. Then I'll probably go to my room and maybe find an hour to go to the gym, and be back before the tournament dinner break. Play will then go on until 1 or 2 in the morning, or sometimes even later. You're doing so many things at once, you can't afford to panic if something that wasn't planned happens.

You have to deal with the actual tournament itself, as well as the marketing and social media of the event, then keep up with what's going on in the office and the preparations for the NEXT event! It's very easy to get a bit overwhelmed, but after spending so much time with each other on the road we really understand the value of having each other's back.

That's what makes it so enjoyable to work at WPT – this sense of family. If you see someone that needs to rest or take a minute, there's a connection where someone else on the team will see and know to step in and take over. You have to come into work with a smile on your face and enjoy what you do. I feel very blessed to work in such a good environment where I feel supported, and I want my team to feel the same way. I used to do it when I was younger, where I would help kids with their homework and also teach them horseback riding. I've always liked to transfer knowledge, and it's important for me as a manager. If any of my team can look back over the years, and think, 'Yeah, that was useful,' like I have with my mentors, then I'll be happy.”

Tags: Hermance Blum, World Poker Tour, interviews