Sportsheets CEO talks leadership and success

Sportsheets CEO talks leadership and success

Posted By Lion's Den
Sportsheets CEO Julie Stewart

Julie Stewart, CEO and owner of Sportsheets, has learned a lot in the past three years since taking over the company and would like to pass her knowledge on to future female CEOs.

Since 1993, Sportsheets has been on the cutting edge in product development, inclusivity, product quality and customer loyalty. Today, it continues to grow as a woman-owned, woman-operated company.

Julie Stewart, CEO of Sportsheets, took over the company in 2020 when former CEO, her brother, Tom Stewart stepped down. For the past three years, she’s learned about her own leadership style and being a leader in general within a male-dominated industry.

Lion’s Den had the privilege of asking Stewart about her experience in the past three years since becoming CEO.


LD: Since becoming the CEO of Sportsheets in 2020, how do you think you’ve grown as a person and as a leader?

Stewart: We’re either growing or shrinking. As leaders, we must constantly evolve. I’m much older than I was when I started in this industry in 1995, so I am always trying to hear the emerging voices of the newer generations. I’ve had to learn to trust what’s new and what my team believes in. I would say letting go has been a constant theme in the last three years, as new leaders are coming into the company and bringing expertise, energy and creativity.  

LD: Can you tell me about what have been some of Sportsheets’ major achievements?

Stewart: We have engineered and maintained leadership in the soft bondage category by introducing couple-friendly, connection-building products that foster experimentation and normalize bondage play for all consenting adults. Our brands and products are well-known throughout the industry, with product leaders like the Under the Bed Restraint System, the Door Jam Sex Sling and our curvy-centric positioning products and strap-ons.

LD: Do you feel more pressure to succeed because of past success or because you’re a woman stepping into a historically male-dominated industry?

Stewart: It’s a great honor to bring a voice for women in this industry for the last 28 years. When I started there were very few women leaders. The ones that were in the industry were true pioneers for sexual freedom and wellness. I think when I was younger, I felt much more pressure to prove myself, work harder than others and hold myself to a higher standard. Almost three decades ago, doing business in this industry was not easy and was definitely not mainstream. Even when I got my master's degree in 1999, people would snicker when I introduced myself and stated my business. It was so taboo. All those things just made me more determined though and that sense of being an underdog was great motivation to succeed and stay the course.

LD: How has Sportsheets grown over the year in terms of the people you hire and the conscious efforts to be more inclusive?

Stewart: Having a diverse team is critical to business success. Ensuring that there are many voices at the table has allowed Sportsheets to create better products, packaging, and company culture. We’ve welcomed and celebrated this diversity for the last 30 years in our key leaders and throughout the company.

LD: What advice can you give other women about leading a company, or just leading people, in general?

Stewart: One of the greatest assets I’ve relied on is a peer group of other business leaders. Going through Covid, having other business owners share their experience and insight was especially critical. It’s important to have trusted people that challenged me on issues, direction and decision. And, as important as this feedback and experience are, I’ve always trusted my gut. We have to find ways to ask good questions, listen, and then quiet all the noise and filter everything so we can listen to what our gut is saying when it comes to decision-making.

LD: What are some of your favorite hobbies outside of work? How important is it to keep up with those hobbies for you?

Stewart: I love spending time with my family, friends and three dogs. I really like to work and it’s always my default, so it takes effort to make time for fun things. I recently joined my church choir (even though I can’t read music) and I love that challenge. It’s great to hear harmony come together when everyone does their part.

LD: Do you have a favorite motivational quote?

Stewart: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do,” by Eleanor Roosevelt. We can always find reasons not to do things, especially difficult things. Eleanor Roosevelt had many great words of wisdom about overcoming difficulty. I love hearing that inspiration.

With more years as CEO ahead of her, Stewart will continue to find ways to break glass ceilings within the industry. Her passion and work-ethic are what make Lion’s Den proud to partner with Sportsheets.

Explore everything Sportsheets has to offer by visiting your local Lion’s Den or shop with us online.

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