Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Chris Poldoian, INSEAD

Chris Poldoian


“A Sommelier-turned-Wine Consultant whose preferred post-marathon hydration is a bottle of petillant-naturel.”

Hometown: Houston, Texas (This is where I’ve worked for the better part of the past decade, but I 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 40 Under 40 Top Beverage Professionals in the USA.

Undergraduate School and Major: Tufts University, Double-Majored in Spanish and Economics

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Freelance Wine Consultant with clients such as Wines of Germany (Deutsche Weininstitut), the D.O.s of Ribera del Duero and Rueda, and Storica Wines, an importer of Armenian wine.

INSEAD is one of the most culturally and professionally diverse MBA programs in the world. How do you see these global perspectives enhancing the value of your business education over the next year? Ask any sommelier: the best way to learn about a wine region is by interacting with foreign winemakers and visiting their vineyards. It’s not enough to bury your head in a textbook on the Mosel – you have to see the region’s steep sites and touch the sun-soaked schist with your hands. If I’ve learned anything from meeting with the vignerons in Corbières, cidermakers in Basque Country, and grape-growers in Vayots Dzor, it’s that exposure to people, places, and ideas is the best catalyst for discovering new ways to conduct business and communicate ideas. In this increasingly globalized marketplace, good business requires empathy and mutual understanding. INSEAD understands this better than anyone.  There’s an amazing energy that comes from getting such different backgrounds together in one room, working towards the same goal.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of INSEAD’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? INSEAD’s global reputation for excellence was what initially led me to apply. In the end, what sealed the deal for me was the opportunity to get a world-class MBA in the span of one year. A one-year intensive program makes the most sense for me – I’m not looking to pull myself out of the market for two years. I’ve had a lot of success in the hospitality industry and am eager to promptly apply my education at INSEAD to the broader world of food and beverage.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at INSEAD? I’m genuinely excited about INSEAD’s third language requirement. Immersing myself in other cultures and languages has been a passion of mine ever since high school when I did an Intercultural Program with AFS in Central America. Gaining fluency in Spanish through my junior year studies in Madrid was easily the highlight of my undergraduate career, and I’ve picked up bits and pieces of French through my work trips to French wine country. Now, instead of tapping away at DuoLingo on my phone, I’ll be living full-time in France, speaking the language in Fontainebleau. And if running marathons taught me anything, it’s that having a tangible, time-sensitive goal is the best motivator. If I really want that diploma next summer, then the français better start flowing tout de suite!

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I’ve had a lot of financial successes running wine programs, but this accomplishment hits close to home. The hospitality industry has the highest rate of substance abuse of any US workforce and ranks nearly 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 aftermath, I co-founded WellWeek, a non-profit initiative to raise awareness of mental illness, destigmatize depression, and promote responsible drinking.

WellWeek ended up raising thousands of dollars, but I’m most proud of the mental health workshops that I organized. I coordinated with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and MHA (Mental Health America); their staff led seminars customized for the hospitality industry workforce. Manager workshops focused on fostering a healthy work environment and identifying depression and substance abuse, while employee workshops focused on an employee’s legal rights and how to handle restaurant-specific anxiety.

How did COVID-19 change your perspective on your career and your life in general? The pandemic helped me realize that what genuinely made me happy in the hospitality industry was developing meaningful connections to people around the world – foreign producers, national importers, regional distributors, and local consumers. With this better understanding of myself, I pivoted away from working directly in restaurants and began a multimedia beverage consultancy that focused on building brand awareness among industry professionals and end consumers. I found myself prioritizing my own personal growth and finding new ways to be creative, like founding a podcast called “By The Glass.”

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? I’ve had a lot of success in the hospitality industry, but I recognized that my skillset and non-F&B experience was relatively limited. Restaurant environments can be myopic, and I cannot think of a single colleague of mine who has pursued an MBA. Given some of the systemic challenges facing the wine industry, it seemed vital to surround myself with people with different professional backgrounds. For years, I longed to find ways to have an impact beyond the four walls of my bar. An MBA will allow me to supplement my soft skills in team-building and communication with important hard skills, like learning how to financially grow and scale a business. By learning how to manage larger teams and function within a multinational organization, I’ll be able to change the way food and beverage brands connect with consumers.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I applied to programs that made sense geographically and had some sort of international food & beverage component. With that in mind, I applied to Anderson, HBS, Kellogg, McCombs (the Texas wine scene is our country’s next big thing), and Stern.

To make my decision, I tried to take a bird’s eye view of not only my career but also my life. In the end, I realized that INSEAD aligned most with my goals as a beverage professional and as a human being. The life lessons I’ll learn by living in a foreign land and developing global friendships are as long-lasting and beneficial as anything taught in a classroom.

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into INSEAD’s MBA program? INSEAD is a unique school with an equally unique application process that includes two alumni interviews and a myriad of short and long answer essays. It’s easy to lose the forest for the trees; to me, the through-line of your application should be a commitment to a global perspective through international experiences. Make sure it’s clear in your interviews and essays that foreign immersion is what you really want – not just a touristic jaunt. Be ready to talk about your formative moments abroad, instances of culture shock, and the ways you handle change.

Chat one-on-one with students. These conversations offer a level of specificity and candor that you’ll never get in a school sanctioned info session. I’d also recommend speaking not just with current students but also with alums at different stages of their career. An MBA means different things to you when you’re one year out of school versus when you’re one-to-five years out versus when you’re ten-to- fifteen years out. Your degree (and whatever debt you accrue) is with you long after you graduate, so it’s good to think about this as a long-term investment.