How shoe tycoon Steve Madden got back on his feet By Reuters
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Steve Madden arrives at the 59th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles
By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Steve Madden, founder and chief designer of a multi-billion dollar shoe brand of the same name, knows something about being confident in a difficult situation.
In 2002 Madden was convicted of stock manipulation, money laundering, and securities fraud. He was sentenced to 41 months in prison. Madden had to step down as CEO of Steven Madden (NASDAQ 🙂 Ltd, the company he founded in 1990 with only $ 1,100 in the bank. He remains the company’s creative and design chief.
“The first thing I learned in prison was not to complain about my situation. It didn’t help, ”said Madden. “It’s easy to get into ‘wee is me’ – everyone does. But you are better off looking at the positives. “
Last fall, Madden published a memoir about his experiences building his business, his beliefs, his jail term, and recovery from drug addiction.
Madden, 62, spoke to Reuters about all the lessons he’d learned from it and how he’s surviving this pandemic. Edited excerpts can be found below.
Question: What was the toughest job you’ve ever had?
A. Working in a shoe store. I started at Jildor in Cedarhurst, New York when I was 20. It competes with prison for the longest two years of my life.
As a shoe seller, you have to learn to be submissive, to work hard, and to be attentive. But the biggest thing I learned was how to sell and what women want. That was a big deal.
Question: What kept you going in prison?
A. I trained a lot and read a lot of novels. I’ve always been a reader, but when I read the book I could fly and go to another place – it was really wonderful. I read a lot of novels from the 70s and 80s because that was available to me – Herman Wouk’s War and Memory, The Winds of War. I’ve read all of Mario Puzo’s and Dominick Dunne’s books. I like novels that ring true.
Question: What is your biggest challenge now?
A. Spending a lot of time alone is not the best place for someone addicted to recovery. One alcoholic alone stands behind enemy lines. So I spoke to other alcoholics and addicts online.
I’ve found that a little fear can help you stay sober. I know if I open that trapdoor there will be no going back – and it’s very scary.
Question: What big lesson did you learn in 2020?
A. I always thought it was bad shoes or something that would help me – I didn’t think it was going to be a mistake. While you are never prepared for anything like this, you should be prepared to lose some things.
Everything can happen. Be humble and know that some of the gifts in our lives can be taken away.
Question: What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
A. The little things are hugely important. I learned that from this colleague I worked for in the shoe store. If any of the shoe displays in the window were messed up it would just go insane because what is the message you are sending to the public about your business?
There is a line from a WH Auden poem that I love: “The crack in the teacup opens / An alley to the land of the dead.” I don’t even know what Auden meant, but I know what it means to me – it’s my business philosophy.
Question: What advice do you have for those who are just starting out?
A. There is always time for a new idea, good ideas, and hard work. I can’t remember ever feeling in my life that I would hate being a newbie now. I don’t buy that. There is always room for something new.
Question: What do you think will workwear look like after the pandemic?
A. At the moment I wear my pajamas a lot. I’m on the phone with Zoom and I’m trying to wear a nice t-shirt, but I’m wearing pajamas. You can’t see her because you can only see me from your chest.
After working from home, I think people will be more relaxed. Sneakers will be more important. I think suit shoes will be a war victim.