Growing up in Chicago in a big, extended Italian American family, Jessica Altieri learned healthy habits from the start. Her parents were passionate about preparing nutritious meals and used dinner as a time to gather and share stories about the day.

Altieri’s parents always encouraged her to pursue her passions, so she gave her all—both in school and out. She excelled academically and developed a love of basketball. Fostered by her father, she practiced diligently and became the star shooting guard of her high school team. Her strong work ethic, stats, athleticism, and passion caught the eye of the Division 1 college basketball coach for the University of Wisconsin.

From Court to Camera

Altieri was recruited to play at Wisconsin and enjoyed the experience. But, by her sophomore year, she realized she would rather pursue journalism. At only 5-foot-5, a career in the WNBA wasn’t likely, so she decided to transfer to one of the most prominent journalism schools in the US, New York University (NYU).

“Milwaukee was pretty close to home, so it was hard moving to New York, but the program was too good to turn down,” Altieri says. “Thankfully, most of my extended family was in New Jersey, so I had relatives nearby, and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to go to NYU. Not only was the education great, but I had amazing internships and was able to study abroad in Florence and Madrid and produce a documentary in Ghana.”

Her love of sports spilled into her internships, as well. Altieri dove into sports reporting at the New York affiliate of ABC and worked behind the camera at MSNBC.

From Numbers to Nightlife

After graduation in 2007, Altieri’s first professional job was, as she describes, a “data nerd” at consumer credit reporting company Experian. She was a sales executive for the consumer market research division, Simmons, but on weekends, pursued her passion for journalism and started a video blog. It was the early days of “vlogging.” Her vlog focused on interviews with famous restauranteurs.

It was rubbing elbows with great chefs and spending time in some of the best restaurants in the world that sparked her interest in a career centered around great food, wine, and people. After nearly two years at Experian, she left market research and moved to California to become a certified wine sommelier at the San Francisco Wine School. She earned her Court of Master Certified Sommelier diploma in 2009, launching her new career.

She continued to produce the same type of short video interviews in California as she had in New York, but this time decided to create a business and digital platform around it, focusing on winemakers. She named her startup the Wine Channel TV Network.

While building her business, Altieri caught the attention of a startup launching in Florida. After vetting each other, she was hired as general manager and sommelier and agreed to relocate to Florida as long as she could still run Wine Channel TV. Not long after starting, Altieri’s “side hustle” grew to the point where she needed to move back to Chicago to focus on it full time. Over the next 10 years, she grew the business by forging alliances with some of the top winemakers in the world.

In 2016, Altieri was rewarded for her success by being named a top “40 under 40” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Around the same time, she started getting invited to work with some of the top wine organizations and attended wine events in New Zealand, Austria, Sicily, Hong Kong, and others. She also wrote her first book called Kiss My Glass: The No-BS Wine Buying Guide and hosted a podcast called Wine Conversations.

While judging the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition one year, she shared a table with world-famous filmmaker and winemaker Francis Ford Coppola, describing it as a defining moment.

“He was sitting across the table, and I was completely starstruck,” Altieri says. “But when I approached him, he told me the wine business should be all about family and conversations. It should bring everyone together to break bread, much like family meals when I was growing up. That conversation ended up inspiring my family-style meals concept for fine dining and helped shape my career.”

From Wine to Water

Altieri was established as a world-renowned wine sommelier, so she started to think about her next passion: water. She says she's always been fascinated by different types of waters from her travels and saw an unmet need in hospitality. Diners were looking for exquisite non-alcoholic beverages, just as wine lovers search for fine wine. She wanted to bring that to her work.

In 2017, she became certified as a water sommelier at Doemens Academy in Germany, making water an official passion. After receiving her certificate, she asked herself, “What’s next?” Her answer came quickly when she was offered an opportunity to join the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. She created the entire beverage program at the Four Seasons Hotels and Resort Palm Beach and established the beverage program for famed chef Mauro Colagreco’s first restaurant in the US, Florie’s. She then created the first water program for the Four Seasons.

Nearly three years later, Altieri is still passionately representing the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, now as the Director of Beverage, Americas for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, powered by IMI Agency.

“I feel fortunate that I was able to create my role while following my passion for fine food, wine, and water,” Altieri says. “People are surprised to learn that mineral water is becoming sought after much like wine. Now diners look to taste, enjoy, and even spend upwards of $100 on the world’s finest mineral water, in the same way wine enthusiasts savor great wine.”

Sustainable Business Strategy

Putting the Cherry on Top

During COVID-19, Altieri decided the time was right to take a course to help her better incorporate sustainability into her work. She found HBS Online's Sustainable Business Strategy and knew it was the program for her.

“I’m always researching and trying to find ways to raise the bar in my life and my work,” Altieri says. “I signed up for the course because of the faculty reputation, and Rebecca Henderson lived up to the promise. I felt like I really got to know her. She was a brilliant teacher. The other people in my cohort were also very intelligent and experienced, so we were able to share different viewpoints when solving business problems.”

When asked about her life now and her future, Altieri says she’ll continue to follow her passions of wine, water, health, family, and friends. She adds that she loves her job and life in Palm Beach and looks forward to continuing to play a part in bringing sustainability to everything she does, at work and at home.

“It took a lot of long days and blood, sweat, and tears to get to where I am today,” Altieri says. “But now, I have the privilege of working with some of the most passionate hospitality influencers in the world. I love my work because I’m able to help inspire sustainability through all that I do.”

Who could argue with that?

If you’re interested in becoming more purpose-driven in your personal and professional life, explore HBS Online’s Sustainable Business Strategy course. Or, if you’d like to hear more from Altieri directly, she’ll be hosting a wine and water tasting experience at Connext 2021. Learn more about this year’s virtual conference for the HBS Online community.

Michele Reynolds

About the Author

Michele Reynolds handles brand marketing and PR for Harvard Business School Online. Prior to HBS Online, she led communications for TripAdvisor and Gazelle and has been widely quoted in national media outlets, including CBS News, Reuters, and The New York Times. Michele earned her bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University. Outside work, she spends time with her teenage daughter, plays tennis, and visits her enormous extended family.