Inspirational Stories of Women in Manufacturing: Sarah Jardine

Posted on: 20/04/2021

The recent Inspiring Women In Manufacturing series has sparked some interesting chats, motivational insights and uncovered the first cohort of inspiring women who have chosen manufacturing as their career. We want to share some of these experiences through our ‘Inspirational Stories of Women in Manufacturing’. We hope you feel as inspired as we do by reading them.

As Chief Operating Officer of the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS), Sarah Jardine has spent her career being inspired and now spends her days inspiring others. 


Growing up on a ‘diet’ of Blue Peter and Tomorrow’s World and excelling in maths and science whilst at school, Sarah’s family and friends all assumed she’d follow a career in medicine. However, a phobia of needles nipped that particular dream in the bud early on.

While attending a University of Strathclyde open day, Sarah met Ivan Ruddock from the physics department, who was giving a talk on lasers. This moment proved to be pivotal for Sarah, who was so inspired she enrolled to study Laser Physics and Optoelectronics at the University.

At the time, it was considered ‘strange’ for women to follow a career in engineering, and Sarah recalls being asked at careers fairs if she was collecting information for her brother or boyfriend.

Reflecting on the course, Sarah said: “It was difficult, and I had to work hard to keep up with my peers. I graduated from Strathclyde University with a 2:2 – not the best qualification. Still, I was driven as I knew this was the career I wanted to pursue.”

The course was certainly a challenging one: 100 students started but only 30 graduated. Interestingly enough, of the 10 women who begun the course, all 10 collected their certificate on graduation day.

Sarah’s next steps were to complete an MSc at Heriot-Watt in Laser Engineering.

From Scotland to Florida…and back again

When looking for a graduate job, Sarah decided she needed to think differently to stand out from other applicants. Placing an advert in the Glasgow Herald, Sarah advertised that she was looking for an optical design job. The advert was picked up by David Clark from Thales Optronics. Inspired by Sarah’s innovative approach, he offered her a job.

Sarah worked at Thales for seven years, quickly finding her feet in laser-based products. This job opened up some fantastic opportunities, including working on the U.K. Apache programme alongside Tom Commerford. The programme allowed Sarah to step into a laser design authority role within the project based in Florida.

Sarah said, “This opportunity really forced me to stand on my own two feet and stick to my own decisions. I was based in Florida for 10 months, working with the manufacturing engineering and electronics team. This experience highlighted that my passion was in ‘making stuff’. I had a mentor in Thales, Mark Barclay, who inspired me to think about what I wanted to do in life and face my challenges. It was a pivotal part of my career.”

Sarah had itchy feet returning to the U.K. and moved to a small company called Optos in Dunfermline. The role involved taking a produce from design through to manufacture. Initially a redesign was required to make it more manufacturable. Sarah stayed with Optos for 20 years, working in different roles during her time there. Eventually moving into an operations role, she was responsible for manufacturing and in 2009 became head of the R&D team.

Learning from mistakes

In 2009 a new COO was appointed, Tom Motta, and he appointed Sarah to manage the factory. With Tom based in Boston, the relationship took a year to develop. During this time, he allowed Sarah to make mistakes, fail, learn, and move forward. These experiences gave Sarah the insights needed to effectively manage a business.

Whilst working for Tom, Sarah’s proudest achievement was improving productivity performance – ramping it up from 40 devices per month to 200 per month, on a single shift with no overtime. What an achievement!

Optos became one of Scotland’s most significant examples of high-value manufacturing and is often used as a case study in an international arena. Following this recognition, Sarah was invited to join the SMAS (Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service) board and promoted to the role of Chair, which she led for five years.

In 2016, the Scottish Government published the Manufacturing Action Plan, highlighting the need for a national manufacturing centre of excellence and a beacon for the regeneration of manufacturing in Scotland.

To NMIS and beyond

Sarah set her sights on being part of this institute, which eventually became NMIS, and was delighted to be offered the COO role in 2020.

Sarah commented, “I see this role as a fantastic opportunity to make a difference to manufacturing in Scotland, from large multinationals to micro SMEs. I really want Scotland to become the standard that other countries measure themselves against. I have already learned so much – from working with composite materials to exploring the opportunities of a digital factory through technologies such as augmented reality (A.R.) and artificial intelligence (A.I.).

My aim is to support and grow manufacturing organisations in Scotland, defining their systems and processes and ensuring the right culture is embedded to allow them to excel. It is an honour to be working in an organisation that is pushing the boundaries of innovation.”

Sarah was awarded University of Strathclyde’s Alumna of the Year in 2018 and received a Top 100 award from The Manufacturer magazine in 2016. She often reflects that manufacturing is a male-dominated environment, which can be hard sometimes. Still, opportunities are there if you want them. Her parents encouraged her to be whatever she wanted to be, and she has always stuck to that motto.

Giving Back

Sarah believes that the people she met on her journey were instrumental to her successful career. She is now mentoring a young woman called Ema, who she met through a career-ready programme when she was 17. Ema started on an apprenticeship programme in Optos and was top of her class in 2020.


Some inspiring words from Sarah

“Everyone needs someone to believe in them. When you find these people, they will help you achieve your goals and aspirations and be that person for someone else.”

“Engineering is still a male-dominated field (although it is changing), but hard work and determination will help you achieve your ambitions.”

“In a world where you can be anything, just be yourself. You have it within yourself to be amazing.”


If you feel passionate about helping women in manufacturing, join our movement. We meet regularly, share experiences, and celebrate women in manufacturing.

We look forward to welcoming you to our LinkedIn group.

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