450 Years

MY CITY LIFE: MARGARITA SKARKOU

The founder member of Barclays UK Ventures on London's diversity, maintaining a balanced routine and putting energy into activities that align with her values

17 February, 2021

Where abouts in London do you spend most of your time?

Typically (pre-Covid), I’m based in Canary Wharf, although I used to spend a lot of time in and around Old Street meeting with start-ups and at Rise (Barclays’ fintech accelerator/co-working space).


What’s your earliest memory of London?

Visiting London for the Millennium with my mum and my sister. Going on the London Eye, when we thought it would be a temporary structure, and visiting the O2 when it was still ‘the Dome’.


What makes London special to you?

Diversity – of people, perspectives, food, activities, neighborhoods.


How would you describe London in three words?

Diverse, vibrant, open.

I try to make time for the things I know are important for my mental (and physical) health

What’s your morning ritual?

I am not a morning ritual person as such, however my days invariably start with a lot of black coffee, checking emails, reading or listening to the news, and catching up on social messages I missed the evening before.


What do you do to keep a good work-life balance?

As much as possible, I try to make time for the things I know are important for my mental (and physical) health. Exercise – jogging, walking, tennis and reformer pilates primarily; seeing (or, in recent months, Zooming with) friends and family; good food; good books; and travelling (generally to warmer countries or to go skiing!). 


What activities, habits or rituals have you found help you to maintain good mental health through challenging times?

Many of the ones listed above; by and large maintaining a balanced routine that includes exercise and nourishing down-time, and trying not to be too hard on myself when things don’t quite go to plan.

Finding purpose in my work and/or extracurricular projects and putting my energy into things that align with my values is also extremely important for me. Mental health and the things that help each of us maintain high levels of emotional health and resilience are personal; understanding what works and sticking to certain habits is not always easy, but I’d say it’s worthwhile and, in some cases, necessary, particularly as we continue to navigate lockdown. 


Are there any resources that you use to help keep a positive state of mind?

I generally don’t use outside resources that much; I keep intending to use a meditation app more, but so far, I haven’t been hooked. I rely a lot on my support network, my family, close friends and partner, as well as music.

Putting my energy into things that align with my values is extremely important for me

What do you like to do to relax?

Go for a walk or jog, watch a show with my love ones, or read a good book.


What’s the best book you’ve read in the past 6 months?

2020 was a record reading year for me, so this is a tough question. Maya Angelou’s seven autobiographies, which I couldn’t put down, were an incredible account of a truly fascinating life and remarkable woman. I was halfway through her book, which recounts her time working for Martin Luther King Jr’s office, as the Black Lives Matter movement was erupting, which made it even more poignant and fascinating to read.

The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac has also stayed with me. It highlights the risks attached to a slower-than-planned transition to net zero, while outlining a path towards a better future and ending on an optimistic and hopeful note. If there is one book I think everyone should read, it would be this, as we start to navigate through the climate crisis, which I think will dwarf Covid in terms of the impact on human health and society as we know it.


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

I am not sure I’m the best person to answer this question, but I always encourage people I manage and my mentees to be bold, challenge constructively and create opportunities for themselves, as opposed to simply waiting for things to happen. I also remind them (and myself) frequently that if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

As women, in particular, I think sometimes we need reminding that it is OK to ask. The worst that can happen is someone can say no, the best can lead to new opportunities and more equality in the workplace.


What thought always puts you in a good mood?

The thought of being on a sandy beach in a hot country with my partner. We both come from islands so are at our happiest in the sun, on a beach, probably eating fish with our fingers.


Margarita Skarkou is a founder member of Barclays UK Ventures. She is on the advisory boards for the Next Generation NED Network, the Global Thinkers Forum development committee, Barclays Women on Boards network, and Women in Finance. She has been recognised as a Woman Future Leader by McKinsey and Young Leader by the president of the Hellenic Republic for her work as head of strategy at the Greek Economic Forum. She was named one of Brummell magazine’s Inspirational Women in 2019 and 2020.

The Royal Exchange is partnering with Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest to encourage conversations about mental health, wellbeing and community spirit. For further information on Mind in the City, its support services – a range of innovative and collaborative services to support people’s mental and physical wellbeing, resilience and recovery – and how you can get involved with campaigning, fundraising or volunteering, please visit: mindchwf.org.uk

Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest is part of the national Mind network, which provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. If you, or anyone you know, is experiencing difficulties, visit mind.org.uk to access information about a broad range of topics and services, designed to help you overcome the challenges of this difficult time