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How She Got There: Tara Russell, President of Fathom

Name: Tara Russell

Job Title and Description: President of Fathom and Global Impact Lead at Carnival Corporation

Website: fathom.org

Twitter Handle: @fathomtravel

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

Tara Russell: It’s a true honor to get to lead the team at Fathom. Just to give you a sense of where we are, we are building the company since we just launched and at the same time trying to bring together experiences that’ll be transformative.

In terms of a typical day, there’s no typical day in my world. I end up all over the world—literally—in terms of travel. For example, I’m in Miami right now, I’m headed to Atlanta this evening and then I’ll be back on the West Coast tomorrow!

I travel a couple of days on most weeks, and I spend some time each day with our internal leadership team (the marketing team or product development team) and with other people within the organization. I also spend a lot of my time with people at Carnival Corporation. We’re one of 10 brands moving millions of travelers a year, so I spend a lot of my time on calls and in meetings with those offices and companies. I also get to speak to lots of people about the Fathom experience so that we can expand it and so that they can go out and experience it.


What drew you to a life (and job) of travel? What is the best part of your job?

TR: I moved around a lot as a kid, so being someone who moved a lot helped me feel really excited for new places and new people and new opportunities. I studied engineering at Georgia Tech and worked for General Motors and Saturn, where I had the opportunity to work overseas in China for a year, then in Thailand, then in Oregon. In many ways, I feel like a citizen of the world. I love that I get the chance and time to do this for my work.

When I threw out the idea for Fathom, I had no intentional to build it myself. But as often happens, I ended up coming on to build this new operation after our Global CEO asked me to lead the team. It’s been an honor. It’s been a crazy and wonderful journey over the last two years.


A lot of our collegiettes are going through a similar process of being handed surprise opportunities that they weren’t even thinking about. What advice do you have for our readers when these moments present themselves?

TR: The reality is that everyone has to consider opportunities in terms of the season of life they’re in. Opportunities may or may not align with where your life. I was really fortunate that for me, this opportunity came at a time when my children (they’re nine and seven years old) were at a stage where I can take them on the road with me. I think travel is one of the best forms of education, so I’m fortunate in terms of where they’re at.

I think you have to have your vision and strategy for the path you may want to take, but the reality is that you have to hold pretty loosely to it to be opportunistic. For me, I am passionate about architecting the space between communities globally with real market demand. That was the path I was generally on, though it didn’t have travel in mind or one specific destination. I’m someone who sees an opportunity that doesn’t exist and leads people into that. I’m doing that now with Fathom and I’m having a fantastic time. Maybe things will be different in the future, but I really want to align with that same original vision.


What was your first job, and how did you get it?

TR: My first job was actually when I was in college working as a process engineer for Saturn. That was the first learning ground I had for working with a big corporation. I never imagined going into the auto industry, but I was presented the opportunity and I thought, why not? It was a great way to learn about a global company that had a lot of diversity internally. I was able to learn about all kinds of different operational aspects of manufacturing. It was a fantastic place to learn.

For college women looking at future jobs, I say find a place with a diversity of learning experiences and be open-minded about what that might look like.


What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

TR: There are many! The most important of advice I can give [based on the mistakes I made] is to be open to opportunities. When I was initially offered a job in China, I said, “Can’t I go to Italy instead? That sounds so much better!”

But that year working overseas in China was probably the most fantastic year of my life, and it was yet another intense and amazing learning experience. I was fortunate enough to get to meet the president of China; overall, it was a really incredible year.

I’ve also made tons of mistakes in terms of team building and organizational building. I’ve hired people for skillsets who weren’t a culture fit. The reality is that the team fit and the culture fit is just as important as the skill fit. 


What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

TR: When you’re young and early in your career, it’s important to just get a lot of experience. My recommendation is to try a lot of stuff and be very open-minded. Get a diversity of experiences; I really got a great “corporate cross-training” at so many companies that really allowed me to do what I do today because I’d worked at every aspect of a company.

Also, find work that is energizing, since managing your energy is just as important as managing your time.


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Lily is a member of Wesleyan University's class of 2016, where she double majored in government and sociology. She's a writer, editor, and social media manager, as well as co-founder of The Prospect (www.theprospect.net), the world’s largest student-run college access organization. In addition to her work with Her Campus, she also serves in editorial roles at HelloFlo and The Muse.