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Reflecting on International Women’s Day this year, it feels like a great time to celebrate the hard work and vision of our Founder, Sarah Gleave.

Sarah Gleave sitting on a bench with the Taj Mahal in the background

Sarah is the driving force behind the business, with an eye for expansion, and big ideas! In between working hard and running all over (literally!) we managed to sit down and chat about what International Women’s Day means for her, and for the business she loves so much.

Why do you feel it’s important for women in business to acknowledge International Women’s Day (IWD)?

It was very different 35 years ago, when I started my small business. Even though strong women were emerging as business entrepreneurs, getting recognition and respect for their achievements was a slow process.

IWD offers a chance to spotlight women’s achievements and challenges – in and out of business.

So, this day is an opportunity to celebrate women’s accomplishments and the day connects people from around the world. With social media, that connection and support is now much easier to access.

I think it's also an opportunity to reflect on my own journey and stand back and be proud of where LCS is today.

Tell us a little bit about your background, and the beginning of your career.

I was based in Stirling, Scotland and had established a successful business designing and selling stencils for cake decoration. I was somewhat of a pioneer in this field at the time, and I balanced selling my own stencil designs with travelling and promoting the two books I had authored. The demand was such that my suppliers could not keep up, so I decided to buy a machine and facilitate a better supply myself.

Securing finance was hard. Despite my business track record, I couldn’t get the backing, and ended up borrowing from family members for that initial purchase.

It paid off. I paid them all back within 6 months, and secured a £250,000 contract with Crown Paints. And so, Laser Cutting Services was born. By 1999 I had employees, and was the leading manufacturer of stencils in the UK. From there we could expand our offerings to cut and engrave other sheet materials such as wood, acrylic, glass, cordura, felt, card and many other types of fabrics. We recognised the diversity of what we could offer as a service – it’s been the key to our growth and it’s still what drives us.

Now, we are based in Cheshire, and the business is still growing. Our reputation for quality and large scale projects has grown and we have developed a diverse customer base in all sorts of markets. Our clients include the leading artist Yinka Shonibare, McLaren cars, Liberty’s of London, the BBC and too many to mention!

What has been a career highlight/standout moment for you?

It has to be when my two daughters joined the company. My daughters have been around the workshop from a young age, but I never imagined they would one day be part of LCS! After establishing their own careers, my eldest daughter Kenzie joined 2017, and then in 2022, Jessica joined the business too. I’m very proud to be able to call this a family business!

Sarah Gleave with daughters Kenzie and Jess

Do you find your industry to be noticeably female or male-dominated?

Laser cutting is perceived as being a male-dominated industry, probably more in the metal cutting /engineering sectors, but LCS is more a design/creative based business, so maybe the perception isn’t as widely held.

We occasionally have clients show an element of surprise that there are 3 women at the helm  of our business – but it's usually accompanied with admiration! I don’t find this to be sexist; I think we are deserving and enjoy recognition wherever it comes from.

What is the most valuable advice you have been given?

Work hard. And when the going gets tough, work harder!

What advice would you give to a woman who wanted to follow in your footsteps?

Seek support from those that have experience and can give guidance, and don’t be afraid to trust your instincts.

If you could have dinner with three inspiring women, (dead or alive), who would they be?

Paula Radcliff – I have so much admiration for her. Her total commitment as well as her sporting achievements.

Karen Brady – I admire her journey as a former managing director of Birmingham City F.C. and current vice-chairman of West Ham United F.C., and also, to sit alongside Alan Sugar on The Apprentice.

Kim Phuc Phan Thi – She was the 9 year old girl depicted in Nick Ut’s famous photograph ‘The Terror of War’ which won a Pulitzer Prize. She went on to become a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, and found the Kim Foundation – providing aid to children affected by war.