Fold Woman: Helen Barber

Fold Woman: Helen Barber
October 12, 2018 The Fold

On growing up: I grew up in the idyllic Norfolk countryside. All my childhood memories are of running through cornfields, playing on the beach and jumping down sand dunes with my three sisters. As the eldest, I was the “responsible one” and a real swot at school. I was always into maths; my dad, an insurance broker, bought me shares in Powergen and National Power when I was 12 so I could follow the markets and watch the stock prices rise and fall. I was sporty, too. I captained our school football team, nicknamed “Barber’s Bullets”, and learnt to surf in my teens on family holidays in St Ives. I flirted with the idea of becoming a lawyer but I didn’t quite get the grades so I decided to study economics at Southampton University. The minute I arrived, I signed up to the surf club.

On her early career: I had a summer job with Aviva and, as soon as I graduated, they offered me a full-time role. I worked there for a year then landed a job as an investment accountant at Bank of New York. It was a tough, male-dominated environment and I had to learn how to stand up for myself and be more self-promotional. That didn’t come naturally to me. I then joined the consultant relations team at State Street Global Advisors and moved to Boston, then to LA where I started working for investment management firm Nuveen. When they opened an office in London six years ago, I transferred back and am now director of advisory services. The role is a job-share; I work 2.5 days a week so I can spend time with our two daughters, Sofia (3) and Zara (1). I’m very ambitious but I’m happy for my career to plateau while the girls are young.

On her typical day: I’m up at 5.45am and use the commute from Surrey to London to catch up on emails and write my to-do list so I can hit the ground running when I arrive at the office. I spend the mornings talking to clients and prospects in Europe, and the afternoons on conference calls with our asset management boutiques in the US. I leave work at 4.30pm so I’m back in time to put the kids to bed, then I log back on in the evenings. As long as the job gets done, it shouldn’t matter where or when you do it. My pet peeve is desk time for the sake of it.

On her power suit: I always make an effort for work; I like to look stylish and well put together. I’ll usually wear a smart dress with a tailored jacket, or I might team black cropped trousers with a pair of red killer heels. I used to wear what was expected of me; now I have the confidence to wear what I like.

On her go-to style: Outside of work, my style is very laid back. I’ll throw on Roxy jeans and a hoodie with Ugg boots in the winter or flip flops in the summer.

On her style icon: Singer Gwen Stefani. She effortlessly goes from classical elegance to rock chick – and she nails it every time.

On staying sane: We usually head to our family home in West Sussex on a Friday evening, have fish and chips and a glass of wine, then watch the sun set over the sea. The girls love spending the weekends by the coast and I’ll unwind by going for a run along the beach. Being by the ocean always clears my head. I still jump on a surf board whenever I can.

On her darkest time: Our first son Yianni was born in 2012. He was a real bundle of energy and was always tearing around the house or kicking a ball. One autumn evening, we put our beautiful, 16-month old boy to bed – and he didn’t wake up the next morning. We called the ambulance. We did CPR. Our son, and only child at the time, had gone. There are no words to describe what losing a child feels like. People said, ‘It must have turned your world upside down.’ But when we lost Yianni, we had no world left. We had to start again and try to get through each day without him. Not many people have heard of Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC) – but in England and Wales it’s more common in children aged 1-4 than deaths from fire and drowning. Earlier this year, I launched a charity called SUDC UK with two other bereaved mothers to raise awareness, help grieving parents with support and information, and fund research. I can’t bring Yianni back but I can try to prevent these tragedies from happening in the future.

On her advice to other women: Oscar Wilde put it brilliantly: ‘Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.’

Interview: Kate Bassett

Photography: Harry Borden

Accessories: Helen’s own

Shot at Nuveen head office

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