Tara Hyland Zittel ’07 had a love for brands from a young age and had long planned to work in marketing. For her Gilmour senior project, she worked at Bonnie Bell, one of the few local cosmetic brands in Cleveland. The experience confirmed for Tara that she wanted to work with brands.
Now in her thirties, Tara has taken that goal up several notches, not as a marketing professional, but as a finance professional. Tara is Vice President at Main Post Partners, a private equity firm well respected for its investments in beauty, personal care and lifestyle brands across the consumer industry, including current and past investments in Too Faced Cosmetics, Milk Makeup, Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare and Not Your Mother's Hair Care.
She spends her days helping founders take their brands to the next level. Though she loves the analytical aspect of her role, Tara most enjoys working with founders, determining how to optimize and grow their businesses.
Creativity and finance don’t exactly go hand in hand. Even so, Tara wants other women to know that finance isn’t all crunching numbers, and that creative females can feel at home in the industry. “I don’t think many young females envision a world in which finance and industries that they are passionate about can be one and the same, as finance can often come off as a number-crunching, stock market-following career path,” she says. “As a result, there’s a huge underrepresentation of young females in this industry.”
Tara is working to change that.
She feels blessed to have started her education at Gilmour, where she got a solid foundation in the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead. She has worked with amazing people across the industry, including another Gilmour alum, Michael Merriman ’08, whom she had the pleasure of working with for several years at her prior firm, Swander Pace Capital.
She married her husband, Michael Zittel, two years ago after crossing paths at a fundraiser for the Diana Hyland Miracle Fund. The nonprofit was established in memory of Tara’s mom, Diana Hyland, who died of breast cancer in 2008.
The couple’s bond has strengthened over the last year as Tara has faced her own cancer battle. “The whole ‘in sickness and in health’ thing hit us harder and earlier than other couples,” Tara says. “When you have cancer, it forces you to think about where you want to spend your time and how you want to live your life.”
When she first discovered her symptoms - insomnia, night sweats and minor alterations to her appearance - Tara consulted her close friend and Gilmour classmate Dr. Rebecca Sarac ’07 over Facetime. Rebecca observed the fullness in Tara’s face and suggested she get her cortisol checked. The advice led to a diagnosis of adrenal cortical carcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer.
“I was fortunate to catch mine before it spread,” says Tara, who has since had the tumor removed. She is generously sharing her story to encourage others to monitor and prioritize their health. The symptoms were not easy to notice, she warns. “I was working out every day and the endorphins were masking the symptoms of the illness,” she says.
This was all at a time when she was traveling every week for work and “burning the candle at both ends.” She made the decision to prioritize her health. In other words, she took the time off she needed to heal from surgery, stopped traveling for work and slowed down.
While she says facing cancer has been daunting and the future has become less certain, Tara is grateful for the life and love she has today.
“Listen to your body and talk to your doctors if you think something’s wrong,” she says. “Work is important, but your health is more important.”