All In: Barry Shulman brings his ‘A’ game to business, poker and life

Barry Shulman (BA 1967) is not a professional poker player.

Sure, he has a pair of championship bracelets from the World Series of Poker, 16 tournament titles, and 119 finishes in the cash—adding up to winnings in excess of $4.7 million. And he’s authored five books and a video on the game’s intricacies.

Barry SchulmanBut it’s not how he makes his living. “People think I just played poker all my life,” says Shulman, whose inscrutable granite scowl at the card table is straight out of Central Casting. “That’s never how I paid my rent. My whole life I’ve worked, worked, worked.”

After graduating with a degree in accounting from the Foster School, Shulman started in his father’s wholesale liquor business.

Real money

But Shulman had his own ambitions. He began selling non-traditional securities in oil and gas and real estate—“anything that wasn’t stocks and bonds,” he says.

Throughout the 1980s his expertise in real estate was quoted in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Businessweek, Fortune, Barrons and a host of other media.

He also developed real estate of his own. In the ’80s and early ’90s, Shulman bought, developed, managed and sold condominiums in 19 Northwest communities, usually with a trusted group of investors. The deals were conservative, and lined up before seeking capital. And he always had skin in the game.

“I never did deals that I didn’t have a big investment in,” Shulman says. “I wasn’t just making money by raising money. If it was going to make money for me, it had to make money for the other guys, too.

“No investor in any of my deals ever lost a penny.”

What happened in Vegas

Having accumulated a tidy nest egg—and zero debt—by the early 1990s, Shulman decided to retire to Las Vegas, travel a bit, and maybe play a little poker, a hobby back in his college days.

Retirement didn’t suit him, intellectually. But poker did. He studied the game voraciously. And he began winning money in progressively bigger tournaments.

Shulman couldn’t help but notice that interest in the game was exploding. The venues had gone upscale, a long way from the game’s smoky backroom past. There were more and bigger-money tournaments. And they were on TV. Plus, the Internet was just about to break.

“It was crystal clear to me to me that poker was going to boom,” Shulman says. “And I wanted to get in on the business.”

Ruling out a casino, he instead purchased Card Player Media with his retirement funds. With Shulman as publisher and son Jeff as president, Card Player has become a major force in the industry. Shulman & son are as responsible as anyone for poker’s continuing ascent.

The sweet life

At 67, Shulman remains the right kind of busy for one averse to retirement. He travels the world by cruise ship with his wife Allyn, and blogs about his experiences at JetSetWay.com. He’s the CEO of the Shulman Family Foundation, and keeps a hand in the real estate business with a few low-risk commercial properties.

He leads Card Player and plays a lot of cards, a hobbyist of the highest order. This makes Shulman patriarch of the “First Family of Poker”—Allyn is a champion in her own right (with more than $1 million in winnings) and Jeff is one of only three people this century to make the final table at two World Series of Pokers (2001 and 2009).

Reflecting on a still-vibrant career, Shulman believes that success in business and in poker comes from the same place.

“In business,” he says, “if you do the right things at the right times in the right places and with the right people, sometimes you get lucky. I’ve never won a poker tournament without getting lucky. I’ve also never won one where I wasn’t playing my best game. The two go together.”

 

 

Shulman speaks to Foster students about risk vs. reward in poker and business.