Meet the 2022 MBA class: Chris Poldoian, INSEAD
âA sommelier turned wine advisor whose favorite post-marathon hydration is a bottle of sparkling natural.
Hometown: Houston, Texas (this is where I worked for most of the last decade, but spent the formative years of my life in St. Louis and Boston)
Fun fact about yourself: At 26, I was the youngest person to be selected for Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s 2017 list of the top 40 beverage professionals under 40 in the United States.
Undergraduate and major school: Tufts University, double major in Spanish and economics
Most recent employer and job title: Independent wine consultant with clients such as Wines of Germany (Deutsche Weininstitut), DOs Ribera del Duero and Rueda, and Storica Wines, an Armenian wine importer.
INSEAD is one of the most culturally and professionally diverse MBA programs in the world. How do you see these global perspectives increasing the value of your business training over the next year? Ask any sommelier: the best way to experience a wine region is to interact with foreign winemakers and visit their vineyards. It is not enough to plunge your head into a manual on the Moselle, you have to see the region’s steep sites and touch the sun-drenched shale with your hands. If I’ve learned anything from meeting the CorbiÃ¨res winegrowers, Basque cider growers and Vayots Dzor winegrowers, it’s that exposure to people, places and ideas is the best catalyst for discovering new ways. to do business and communicate. ideas. In this increasingly globalized market, good business requires empathy and mutual understanding. INSEAD understands this better than anyone. There is an incredible energy that comes from bringing together such different backgrounds in one room, working towards the same goal.
Apart from your classmates, what was the key element of the INSEAD MBA program that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? INSEAD’s worldwide reputation for excellence first led me to apply. Ultimately what sealed the deal for me was the opportunity to earn a world-class MBA within a year. A one-year intensive program makes the most sense for me – I’m not looking to exit the market for two years. I have had great success in the hospitality industry and look forward to quickly applying my studies at INSEAD to the wider world of food and beverage.
What class, club or activity are you most passionate about at INSEAD? I am really excited about INSEAD’s third language requirement. Immersing myself in other cultures and languages ââhas been a passion of mine since high school, when I followed an intercultural program with AFS in Central America. Acquiring fluency in Spanish through my undergraduate studies in Madrid was easily the highlight of my undergraduate career, and I learned bits of French on my work trips to the area. French wine. From now on, instead of listening to DuoLingo on my phone, I will live full time in France, speaking the language of Fontainebleau. And if running marathons has taught me anything, it’s that having a tangible, urgent goal is the best motivator. If I really want this diploma next summer then the French had better start flowing right now!
Describe your greatest achievement in your career so far: I have had great financial success in running wine programs, but this achievement touches me closely. The hospitality industry has the highest rate of drug addiction of any working American, and ranks almost as high in mental illness. Anthony Bourdain was one of my heroes, and in 2018 I was completely devastated to learn of his suicide. In the process, I co-founded WellWeek, a non-profit initiative to raise awareness about mental illness, de-stigmatize depression and promote responsible drinking.
WellWeek ended up raising thousands of dollars, but I’m especially proud of the mental health workshops I’ve run. I coordinated with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and MHA (Mental Health America); their staff have conducted personalized seminars for the hospitality industry workforce. Manager’s workshops focused on promoting a healthy work environment and identifying depression and substance abuse, while employee workshops focused on an employee’s legal rights and how manage restaurant-specific anxiety.
How has COVID-19 changed your perspective on your career and your life in general? The pandemic helped me realize that what really made me happy in the hospitality industry was developing meaningful connections with people around the world – foreign producers, domestic importers, regional distributors, and local consumers. With this better understanding of myself, I moved away from direct working in restaurants and started multimedia drink consulting focused on brand awareness among industry professionals and end consumers. I found myself prioritizing my own personal growth and finding new ways to be creative, like starting a podcast called “By The Glass”.
What drew you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after you graduate? I have had great success in the hospitality industry, but recognized that my skills and experience outside of catering were relatively limited. Restaurant environments can be myopic, and I can’t think of a single colleague of mine who has taken an MBA. Given some of the systemic challenges facing the wine industry, it seemed vital to me to surround myself with people with different professional backgrounds. For years, I’ve dreamed of finding ways to make an impact beyond the four walls of my bar. An MBA will allow me to supplement my general skills in team building and communication with important technical skills, such as learning to develop financially and to grow a business. By learning how to manage larger teams and operate within a multinational organization, I will be able to change the way food and drink brands connect with consumers.
What other MBA programs have you applied to? I applied to programs that made sense geographically and had some kind of international food and drink component. With that in mind, I applied to Anderson, HBS, Kellogg, McCombs (the Texas wine scene is our nation’s next big thing) and Stern.
In making my decision, I tried to get the big picture not only of my career, but also of my life. In the end, I realized that INSEAD was most relevant to my goals as a beverage professional and as a human being. The life lessons I learn from living in a foreign country and developing global friendships are as lasting and beneficial as anything taught in a classroom.
What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission to INSEAD’s MBA program? INSEAD is a unique school with an equally unique application process that includes two interviews with alumni and a myriad of short and long answer essays. It is easy to lose the forest for the trees; for me, the progress of your application must be a commitment from a global perspective through international experiences. Make sure it’s clear in your interviews and essays that immersion abroad is what you really want – not just a sightseeing getaway. Be prepared to talk about your training times abroad, culture shock, and how you are dealing with change.
Chat one-on-one with the students. These conversations provide a level of specificity and candor you will never get in a school-sanctioned information session. I would also recommend speaking not only with current students but also with alumni at different stages of their careers. An MBA means different things to you when you have completed one year of school versus one to five and ten to fifteen. Your degree (and whatever debt you rack up) is with you long after you graduate, so it’s good to think of it as a long-term investment.
DON’T MISS: MEET INSEAD’S 2022 MBA PROMOTION