Shoe Mogul Steve Madden on Seeing Miracles, Making Mistakes, Relapse and Recovery

    Before he could start his incredibly popular shoe empire, Steve Madden needed to overcome his own struggles with addiction. Inspired by the principles that guided his recovery – showing up, doing the next thing, acknowledging his mistakes – Steve built a business that would become known worldwide.

    Throughout his life and career, Steve has recovered, relapsed, and recovered again; gone to prison; and came back with grit in spades. In conversation with Elizabeth Vargas, Steve reflects on the arc of his life, coming from a family with a history of substance use disorders, managing ADHD and, most importantly, learning to let go and to grow.

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    If you’re unable to listen, check out the transcript of Steve’s conversation with Elizabeth below.

    Explore resources related to topics and themes discussed in this episode.

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    Substance Use + Mental Health guide

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    What Types of Addiction Treatment are Available?

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    Episode transcript

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Hello everyone, welcome to Heart of the Matter. I am your host, Elizabeth Vargas and I am so happy to welcome to the podcast today a man whose name you’ve probably heard before. His name is Steve Madden, he is a shoe designer, that’s putting it in a very small sort of humble way. Steve has managed to build a global empire, a business behemoth around his extremely popular shoes. But he did all this while fighting a really, really terrible battle with alcohol addiction and drug addiction. And going to prison actually for a time, serving time for stock manipulation, money laundering and securities fraud. This is a man though, who knows how to come back. Because he has done it over and over. And not only has he come back and managed to pick himself up and recover from addiction, recover from a conviction, he’s actually paid it forward. And he also, in the meantime, just wrote a memoir about his life called the Cobbler: How I Disrupted an Industry, Fell From Grace, and Came Back Stronger Than Ever. Please welcome to Heart of the Matter, Steve Madden.

    Steve, good to have you.

    Steve Madden

    It’s good to be here.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Nice introduction you provided me with.

    Steve Madden

    Yeah, it’s not bad, I’m a titan.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah, you’re a titan.

    Steve Madden

    I’m a titan. They call me mogul. You know, mogul.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Would you prefer me to call you a mogul on this?

    Steve Madden

    No, I don’t actually. I guess I used to … People always used to ask, I used to say I’m a shoe maker, just a shoe maker.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Well, we’re having you here because you’ve written a memoir called the Cobbler, speaking of a shoe maker. I love that title, the Cobbler. And was very curious to see that you actually got the nickname the Cobbler from Jordan Belford, the quintessential Wolf of Wall Street.

    Steve Madden

    I did. He was the wolf.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    He was the wolf. We’ll get to that in just a second. But it’s a great memoir. Was it difficult to write?

    Steve Madden

    It wasn’t at the … At various moments it changed. When I initially did it, which was before COVID, was sort of in the space of just letting it all hang out. It was good. I enjoyed it. And then COVID hit and then now fast forward to six months later, I have to do the audio. And I was like, “Oh God, what did I do?”

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Oh, the audio book, yeah.

    Steve Madden

    I actually wanted to buy all the books and burn them.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    That’s so funny.

    Steve Madden

    I really did. Because it was like, I was just … Did I have to say that? Did I have to talk about this person? And I passed out in this … Did I have to say that I passed out? Couldn’t I have done without that? But in the moment, I was trying to be as honest as I could. But here we are, and it’s a good story. But I’m torn about it. I kind of wish … I don’t know why COVID has affected me, but I kind of just want to … I don’t want to have any pain. I’m kind of feeling a little sensitive. I get to spend a lot of time by myself, as we all do now. I mean, you know. So, I don’t know, that’s just where I’m at.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    It’s funny, I wrote a memoir and I remember when I recorded the audio book I was mortified. The sound engineers were hearing me confess all these things that I had done while drinking that I was so ashamed of and mortified.

    Steve Madden

    I didn’t know that, that you were a little bit of a drinker.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Oh yeah, I’m in recovery. I’m in recovery.

    Steve Madden

    Oh God, you know, I am too. I didn’t … But I was embarrassed like, “Why did I say that?” It’s like a qualification. But we-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah, it’s a qualification though to the whole world, not just to the room.

    Steve Madden

    Exactly, it’s a little different. Yeah.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah. I was struck by one thing in reading your book I think overall from start to finish, and that is grit. I mean, you have grit in spades. You describe yourself as a young man as being quite frankly a mess. You were on drugs and alcohol, you dropped out of college after a year, you crashed cars, you, as you just put it, you passed out.

    Steve Madden

    Passed out.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah, many places in many ways.

    Steve Madden

    I passed out at Macy’s.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    At Macy’s in the store.

    Steve Madden

    I passed out at Macy’s. I think I passed out in the dress department.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Okay. Should we ask how and why that happened?

    Steve Madden

    I don’t know, but I … It was a very embarrassing situation.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Well, you said in your book that, and we hear this a lot, that addiction runs in families. That there is a genetic link. And you talk about the fact that it ran in your family. You write, it turned out that your brothers, John and Luke, you write, “It turned out that John, Luke and I had more in common than any of us would’ve expected. Each of us faced our own slightly different battle as part of the same larger war with alcoholism and addiction. It’s a tough fight when you can never really win outright. The sad truth is that to some extent both my brothers lost their battles, I’m still fighting mine a day at a time.”

    Steve Madden

    Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, it’s very strange. Well, it’s a daily reprieve, so that’s how we view it. Yeah, my dad was alcoholic and much different than my alcoholism. Because he never did drugs or anything. I think when you mix … If you’re coming up and you’re an alcoholic and you’re also a drug taker, it’s like completely insane very early on. But I think sometimes with some alcoholics, it’s a slow sort of steady thing. And maybe there’s no incidents, there’s maybe no drunk driving or anything like that. But it’s just a constant two drinks at lunch, come home and have a drink, different journey. But anyway, I don’t know why it worked out that way. I mean, it’s a terrible thing. But it can be arrested. Pardon the word arrested, I had that too.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah, no pun intended.

    Steve Madden

    No, but it can be arrested. You can’t win, but you can arrest it.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You said that you, as a kid, as a person actually, still as an adult, suffer from ADHD. That it was undiagnosed when you were a kid. And we know that, from statistics that nearly half of all kids who have these kinds of issues, ADHD, self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. How did that come together for you?

    Steve Madden

    One of the good things about the book, and I just realized it as you were talking, is that I got to see sort of the arc of my life, especially as a child before the drugs, before I started taking drugs. And the way I was as a child is kind of like the way I am as a sober adult in a way. And I didn’t realize that until I wrote the book. I was filled with a lot of grit and pluck and a lot of promise. I was a little all over the place. I was a leader as a child. And then it all went out the window around the age of 19.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Is that when you started using?

    Steve Madden

    Yeah, that’s when it started to become … 18, 19 like that. And it all sort of went out the window.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Why did you … looking back, what was it? Could you not turn your mind off? Was it just going crazy? What is it, do you think, about attention deficit disorder that led you to get relief with drugs or alcohol?

    Steve Madden

    The thing about ADD, I mean, I think it’s … I want to say that I think it’s over-diagnosed today. I mean, they give meds to everybody.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Certainly over-medicated, for sure.

    Steve Madden

    Every kid. I pretty much … Every college kid that I know that would be the kids of friends, they all take one of those pills, those amphetamine pills, which is Adderall, Vivance, Ritalin. I don’t think there’s one that doesn’t take it, to be honest with you. I haven’t met one. I read this book called Driven to Distraction, and it’s in the book. There was so many things, the sloppiness, bad temper, losing things all the time, inability to have a relationship that are the hallmarks of real ADD. To this day, I don’t have a key. I do not have a key to my house.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Why?

    Steve Madden

    62 years old, I’ve never had a … Because I lose every key that I get. I just lose them. Okay? I mean, I’m not a bad guy. I just can’t … You know what I mean? They go. So, now I live in a … I’ve fashioned my life around it. I’m very lucky, I live in a high rise with a doorman and stuff like that, my door is open. I lock it at night so nobody comes in and chops me up into little pieces. But that’s ADD. You can’t … The thing about … You can only go so far as a student too. It’s just impossible to focus.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Why is it so many like you turn to drugs and alcohol? Because the statistics don’t lie. There’s a very strong link between the two.

    Steve Madden

    If you take something, I remember when I was a kid it was like an Easter vacation and it was 15 or something. I remember we started smoking pot. I remember thinking to myself, “This was the greatest vacation I ever had in my life. What happened this vacation? I feel …” If your mind is going a million miles an hour and then you take something and all of a sudden you’re calm and you feel good, you’re going to take a lot more of it. It’s not a conscious decision, it just sort of ends up going in that direction. You search for the calm or whatever. So, that’s what happened to me. And it doesn’t matter, for the purposes of me and you here talking, doesn’t matter if I was an alcoholic because I had ADD or maybe I was an alcoholic and I had ADD. They could be two different things.

    But for sure, the ability to calm my … It’s like a cable thing and the box is my brain. And you keep … Well, they don’t have those boxes anymore. But the first cable ones had those boxes with 20 across and you’d press the buttons. And that’s what my brain is like. People just keep pressing the different things.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Constantly switching the channels.

    Steve Madden

    Constantly switching channels.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    And yet even though it gave you relief, you write in the book, “Drugs diminished me as a person, the full field of vision I’d always had access to was narrowed and my charm and intellect were squashed by this beast that completely controlled me. As I relive it, I honestly can’t imagine how I survived.” That’s pretty dire.

    Steve Madden

    It was dire. It was dire. I spent the ’80s on my couch just … I mean, it was pretty bad. You kind of think you need it to survive. That’s what your brain tells you, “You must have it.” Whatever it is. So, one has to get lucky and find a way to get out of that kind of mindset. And it’s not easy, but it can be done for sure. I’ve seen a lot of miracles.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah. We’ll get to that in just one second. There was one part of the book that made me laugh out loud because it was so funny, and yet I was so horrified. When you were talking about, at its very worst, at its darkest for you, you write, “I had seen a famous Saturday Night Live bit that advertised the William Holden Drinking Helmet.”

    Steve Madden

    Oh my God, yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    “Holden, a famous actor and alcoholic had died after slipping on a rug and hitting his head on a table on his way down. In one of my worst moments, I actually went out and bought a helmet because I was worried that something similar might happen to me.”

    Steve Madden

    Yeah. Yeah, it’s true. I would put on padding on my clothes because I would just fall. For some reason I had this sharp sort of coffee table in my apartment. I just was constantly falling. So, I’d wear sweaters and stuff like that. And then the William Holden thing-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    I didn’t know there actually was a William Holden Helmet.

    Steve Madden

    There was a bit on Saturday Night Live, they had a William Holden Drinking Helmet. It’s kind of sad to make fun of the guy. But yeah, I mean, I don’t … It was funny, we were talking before about qualification. For me, it works because I meet with people that are like me. So, if I tell them something like, “I locked myself out of my apartment naked.” Everybody is like, “Yeah, so what?” They laugh and then they’re onto the next thing. It’s not a big deal. Because whatever. But doing that to civilians, people are like, “Ooh, what’s that? He locked himself out of his apartment naked.” That’s the one thing, we did a documentary and we talked about that. And we did a simulation of me being naked outside of my apartment in the documentary.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    I know, I saw the documentary and I was wondering.

    Steve Madden

    And people come up to me, “Is that real?”

    Elizabeth Vargas

    I was wondering, did they get the old footage?

    Steve Madden

    No, no, no.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You reenacted it?

    Steve Madden

    Yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Oh my God, well-

    Steve Madden

    Yes, yes. And it really was true, I really did that. I really did that.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    After having many mornings of waking up and wondering how you got that bruise or that black eye.

    Steve Madden

    Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes, oh yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    And your dad saying, “Forget it, I’m not paying for college anymore, you’re screwing up too much.” You finally do get sober.

    Steve Madden

    I do get sober.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    And you walked into Perry Street and went to your very first … Oh no, you don’t want to say that?

    Steve Madden

    You know, I don’t know. I’m sort of ambivalent about it.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You say it in the book.

    Steve Madden

    I do. And I don’t know. I talked to Dax Shepard about this.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah, because there is an anonymity.

    Steve Madden

    Yeah, and Dax doesn’t care about that. We had a lengthy conversation. I did his podcast. Dax says, “I tell everybody I’m in the rooms.”

    Elizabeth Vargas

    I have lots of friends who do the same. I’m careful about it. I always just say, “I go to meetings in recovery.” Or, “I meet with other recovering alcoholics.” I try and respect the fact that AA tenants require and request anonymity.

    Steve Madden

    Yeah, I think the thing about that was I think in the ’50s people would say, “I go to AA.” And then you’d see them drunk or something. So, the AA-ers were concerned that AA was getting a bad … It would actually turn people off to AA, like it doesn’t work. I mean, I think that’s what I heard.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    But might it also feed the ongoing issue of stigma and shame around the disease to be so secret about your recovery or even your battle to get sober?

    Steve Madden

    Alcoholics anonymous saved my life. So, I sometimes don’t want to keep that a secret. I mean, it just plain out straight up, there’s no other way to say it, nothing else worked for me straight up. That’s it. What can I say? I know a lot of people … I know some people, they get sober without it? Perhaps. I don’t know. I don’t see how it’s possible, to be honest with you.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    What was it about that first meeting that you walked into that something happened? Something shifted. You were able to walk back out of that meeting and not pick up a drink that night? Or pick up a drug that night?

    Steve Madden

    I was pretty desperate, that’s the first thing. I was really at a place of desperation, unlike anything that I’d sort of ever experienced. For some reason, I always say there was a confluence of factors, the universe, stars were aligned and I was able to receive information that was okay, that I understood what I was doing. It was amazing. I actually remember it really well. I was so unhappy and so desperate. It was just an amazing experience, to be honest with you. I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yes, you have.

    Steve Madden

    I have been to prison, I’ve been out of prison, the children, money, you know what I mean? And that AA, that Tuesday night in the Village was-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Oh, you remember it was a Tuesday night? Wow.

    Steve Madden

    Yeah, I do, it was an 8:30 meeting, it was a remarkable, remarkable experience. Things just changed. It was like my life changed in one day.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You stayed sober, you started going to meetings daily, you got a sponsor. You also took $1,100-

    Steve Madden

    Yeah, it was all sort of at the same time.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Right.

    Steve Madden

    I can’t remember what came first, but I think it was like at the same time. I started my business and got sober, pretty much all of it boom, explosion. I became that plucky 13-year-old boy again filled with energy, filled with ideas, enthusiasm and leadership. That guy had gotten away from me.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Do you think you could’ve built the Steve Madden shoe line into the colossal success that it is, if you’d been drinking and using drugs?

    Steve Madden

    Oh no, there’s no chance. Yeah, no. None. Zero. I had become laser focused on building this business and it was an amazing journey. I never thought I would be this successful ever. I thought maybe I was kind of smart, maybe something, maybe I’d make a few dollars. I don’t know.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    I like it because I think so many people tend to write off those who suffer with addiction as hopeless cases, they’ll never get their life together, it’ll be a constant battle for them. And this is a very … The story you tell in the Cobbler is a very dramatic story of as a young man, you really struggling with the sort of wreckage of your life in the grips of addiction, putting the drugs and alcohol down almost overnight with nothing in your own garage, building up what would turn out to be one of the most successful shoe companies in the world ever.

    Steve Madden

    Yeah. Yeah, it was. Hard to believe.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    It is hard to believe.

    Steve Madden

    It’s hard to believe.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Why do you think-

    Steve Madden

    You know what? I took a lot of principles from the program. Which is, showing up, just showing up and putting one foot in front of the other. And doing the next thing.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Doing the next right thing.

    Steve Madden

    No, not the next right thing, the next thing.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Really? It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong?

    Steve Madden

    Well, one doesn’t know. I mean, I never really loved that expression because so many times we don’t know if it’s the right thing, but we just have to show up and do stuff. Let’s say with your children, do you know what school is the right school? Things like that. So many things like that. So, I never really loved that expression. Because of course we’re going to do the next right thing. If somebody could tell me there’s-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    What that is.

    Steve Madden

    … there’s so many risks, relationships, things like that. For me, it’s all been good in the sense that visa vie that is that even the bad experiences have been learning experiences. So, I’m kind of keen on that. I’m always kind of like, “Oh yeah, I made a mistake. What can we get out of that? What did I do wrong there? Where did I screw up?” And of course, I continue to make mistakes. And we need to make mistakes, in business I’m talking about. And we can talk about life too. But you have to make mistakes because it means you’re playing it safe, you’re not trying new things, your business could get stagnant. And not everything is going to … That’s the thing when you really … Not to get into the weeds. When you get very successful then you start to have ideas and you can’t believe it. Then you go onto the next phase and you can’t believe everything you do isn’t successful. So, you have to kind of look at that. Yes, I like doing autopsies on ideas. I like to do that.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    I think people have a tendency to look at people who are super successful and think, “They had a great … They’ve never made a mistake.”

    Steve Madden

    That’s just nonsense.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Exactly. There was a very successful writer who’s been published in every leading prestige magazine and written books and that sort of thing. And he got on stage in front of an audience with a seven foot high stack of paper and said, “This stack of paper, you guys all see all my articles all the time in all these magazines. These are all my rejection letters.”

    Steve Madden

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s great.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    And nobody ever thinks about that.

    Steve Madden

    That’s awesome.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    The people who are at the pinnacle, at the top of the heap and enjoying the fruits of their labor and enormous success often failed a lot during it. And by the way, that’s true of recovery too.

    Steve Madden

    Yeah. And still do. I mean, the good thing is to acknowledge your mistakes. There are certain people that go down with the ship. They never admit they’re wrong. They go all the way. I say, “I made a mistake? I changed my mind.” How about that one? I’d like to put that on a plaque in my office for my executives. “I changed my mind. Upon further data, I now see it differently.” There are many executives I’ve worked with that do not change their mind. I’m sure you’ve worked with a bunch too. They just go all the way. And it’s so stupid. I changed my mind. “But you said, but you said …” “I know I said. I changed my mind.” Nobody can say anything.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    No. At some point in those early years when you were building this business, you come into contact with Jordan Belford, who offers to take your company public, which would give you guys an infusion of cash, which would help grow the business in a dramatic way. I’m just curious, as I was reading this book I was wondering, especially as someone in recovery because they teach us in recovery to do the right thing, to be ethical. Were there any alarm bells going off in your mind about Jordan and what he-

    Steve Madden

    The important thing to know is that I was as unethical as Jordan was. That’s important. Because it’s easy to slam him because he’s the one that made the movie and he was the leader of the little scam or whatever. But in looking back, I own my role here. Even though we’re probably not good friends today, I learned a lot from Jordan. Jordan was a fantastic entrepreneur and he was somebody that I talked to amidst the shenanigans that we were doing. But I actually talked to about real things in business. Because we identified so strongly with each other because we were both entrepreneurs. He had this business [inaudible 00:26:26] that he built from nothing too. So, we had a tremendous bond and I learned a lot. But I was equally as complicit as him.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You were, for people who haven’t read the book or seen the movie, you were involved in a classic scheme called pump and dump with stock.

    Steve Madden

    Yeah. They would sell me the stocks and I would resell them back to them.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    And in the case of taking your company public, they took your business, which had one store, literally one store, and offered it up as an IPO.

    Steve Madden

    Yeah, well we had a little wholesale business and yeah. It was the only company that made it out of the 35 companies or whatever, 50 companies that they took public.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Were you aware at the time, that what you were doing was illegal? Or was it sort of in the gray area?

    Steve Madden

    At first I thought it was a gray area. And then you lie to yourself a little bit. Yeah, I’m not an idiot, but there was so much money being made. Then there was a couple of … They had a couple of the trimmings, Bears Stearns was their clearing agent. I thought, “Well, if Bear Stearns is their clearing agent, we must be okay,” and stuff like that. But I knew. And then there was a point where you go beyond the line and then you’re in there and you’re in there. And that’s it.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    At what point, because it’s around this time that you relapsed. Do you think the two are related or coincidental?

    Steve Madden

    I relapsed after about eight years. I don’t know. I relapsed because that’s what addicts do sometimes. No, I wouldn’t say that it was because of that. Maybe I wasn’t doing the same things that I did when I was really sober, committed to my sobriety. No, I can’t blame it on that, no.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    As a result of your dealings with Jordan Belford, you and Jordan end up going to prison.

    Steve Madden

    Yes. Yes, different prisons.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Different prisons. And you for more time than he, mostly because you refused to-

    Steve Madden

    I think I did a little more than him. I think everybody kind of ended up doing about the same. Maybe he did less. I didn’t cooperate.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    He did.

    Steve Madden

    I actually got in trouble in prison, so I ended up doing more time, which he likes to point out on the talk shows. I don’t know why he keeps doing that. But I did get in trouble. And he’s not wrong. I mean, we all got about the same. Prison was just about the worst experience you can imagine, other than perhaps dying of a horrible disease, which I’m sure is worse. But something like that.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    How did you survive? You talked about getting yourself into a certain mindset that once you got in … I mean, that’s another place where I really saw the grit really come through. That you were determined to survive it no matter what and yet you knew and you write in the book, this was one of the hardest things you’ve ever had to do.

    Steve Madden

    Yeah. I mean, I think you all can imagine how hard it is to sleep in a cell and not have good food and be away from the people that you love and have no freedom. It’s just the most heart breaking thing. I was incarcerated for two and a half years. And my heart broke every single day. But I knew that it was bad and I knew that there was a few things that I needed to do to survive, and one of them was to not whine about it and kind of make the best of it. I learned that from people that I was in with. This is your life and you’ve got to … That’s it. There’s no looking back. Let’s go. You make a life for yourself. For me, the actual routine in prison wasn’t that terrible. It is terrible, but you make your life, you start to … I’m reading books, I’m exercising and I’m … My life-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You actually taught a business class in prison.

    Steve Madden

    Yeah, I taught a business class and I had friends. So, you do the best you can do to survive. But for me, the tough part was missing all the stuff at home. The life was going on, on the outside, people were going out and falling in love and eating steak dinners and watching football games and playing golf, and I was in a cell. So, knowing that, was just a killer. But I just had to keep my eyes on getting through it.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You had gone to rehab right before you went to prison. So, thankfully you didn’t have to detox in prison.

    Steve Madden

    Yes. Yes, yes that’s true.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Friends intervened and helped out with that?

    Steve Madden

    Yeah, good friends.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah.

    Steve Madden

    Very good friends.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah, that’s a real gift.

    Steve Madden

    Yeah, thank God. That was really a gift.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Once you were in prison though, you did join a program they have for people recovering from drugs and alcohol.

    Steve Madden

    Oh yeah, we had programs in there.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    I’m just curious, how are they? Because we know that so many people in prison are suffering from issues related to addiction. How are those prison programs of recovery?

    Steve Madden

    Some really great people bring AA meetings in from the outside. And the Bureau of Prisons, that’s the men. And these people are saints. We had a pretty good meeting, and then I ran a meeting and the inmates came because they thought somehow they might get time off their sentence. But it was really good for me. That was good. I hope they still … I don’t really know. I hope they do that today in the prisons. I’m not sure what the story is.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You got out of prison and the company continued to grow exponentially. You put your brother in charge of international sales, you expanded Steve Madden overseas.

    Steve Madden

    Yeah.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    It’s almost like there wasn’t even a missed step, aside from the two and a half years.

    Steve Madden

    Yeah, that missed step, yep.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Where you were on hold.

    Steve Madden

    Yeah. A lot of luck and a lot of … I came out with a lot of energy, I had a great team, I’m good at what I do. And we just … It was like I had rocket fuel. We just went to another level. Most importantly, I think the most important thing is the fact that I was incarcerated, I was forced to let go of a lot of things. Typically a guy like me doesn’t let go of anything. I have to control everything. I’m the kind of guy, I remember there was a movie called Casino, I don’t know if you remember the movie, where Robert De Niro runs the casino and he opens up the brownies and there wasn’t enough chocolate chips in the brownies and he yells at the guy. That’s me. I’ve done that. I’ve actually got the caterer at a big show, “What are these cookies? You can’t have chocolate chip cookies that taste like medicine.” And just stopped everything. So, that’s me. I am that guy.

    Typically with a founder, an entrepreneur, that kind of gets in the way, that behavior, of real growth. And I was able to pick really great people to help me grow my business so that I could do the Steve thing.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    The Steve thing meaning designing shoes? I mean, it’s fascinating.

    Steve Madden

    Designing shoes, being an entrepreneur, focusing on some out of the box things. Certain things that aren’t really great running a day to day business with lawyers and boards of directors and accountants and balance sheets and all that stuff. So, I was able to do my creative thing, but I had all these other people that were great. And it was an accident and it was an explosion.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You’ve also gotten married, become a father of three.

    Steve Madden

    Yes. Yes, one of my daughters was here just before. They’re all here. Yeah, it’s great.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    And gotten divorced, which can also be hard.

    Steve Madden

    What? Married and divorced. Yeah. That was … Yeah. Yeah.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    And now we’re in the midst of a pandemic. How has the pandemic affected your industry, I’m curious?

    Steve Madden

    It’s been devastating.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah.

    Steve Madden

    Everything is online sales. We’re doing well. I mean, Steve Madden’s doing pretty good all things considered. But we just got torpedoed, if we’d be like a boat we’d be like we took two torpedoes. We have stores all over the world, so nobody’s going to stores. So, it’s quite devastating. And a different … Well, I mean, it’s just mind blowing. I can’t even believe we’re sitting here talking about it. Everything changed. I don’t know. Every day, I mean, we just had a recent sort of surge again. It was kind of like we had that surge March, April, May we were paranoid. Then we kind of started going out again. And now in the last three weeks it’s like whoa. It’s like everybody is freaking out again. And it’s actually been even scarier.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah. And how do you stay sober during a pandemic? Especially when so much of staying sober is going to meetings with other addicts and alcoholics and we’ve all been reduced to doing that on Zoom, which a lot of people struggle with. How do you manage that?

    Steve Madden

    I beat my kids a lot.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Stop.

    Steve Madden

    No, I mean, it’s a … There’s Zoom meetings. We do Zoom meetings. I’ve been involved and talked to people. It’s not the same, but I have some very close friends that are sober and we talk. It’s been quite helpful, text, talk. Everybody’s going through the same thing.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    There’ve been all sorts of statistics about relapsing during this pandemic, that lots of people, that alcohol abuse is up, drug abuse is up.

    Steve Madden

    Tons. I can’t even imagine what that would be like. Oh God. That sounds so awful. I mean … I spent … I mean, for me, I don’t know about for you, it’s kind of like surfing. I feel like … Well, the beginning few months and now again, here we are again. Just kind of got to go with this whole quarantine. At first it’s freaking, it’s weird, you’re alone, ugh. The bed, the couch, back to the bed, pajamas. But if you just accept it like okay, I can’t go out, I could get very sick. I got to protect my family. So, you just kind of go with it. Reading, online stuff, news, you just have to go with it. You just have to just be on the trip, be on the quarantine trip.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    I think in a lot of ways, surviving the pandemic, I’m using a lot of the same principles that I used to stay sober. Like focusing on where I am right now, being present right here, just one day at a time literally when it comes to surviving the pandemic. I’ll worry about next month, next month.

    Steve Madden

    Yeah. I think that’s good. For me, I just have to go with it, accept it, and just kind of try to enjoy it. I feel very lucky that I’m able to afford food and have some stuff, good TVs. It could be worse. It could be a lot worse. And I just try to stay grateful.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Finally, I want to read back to you one more line from your book when you talk about addiction. You say, “Addiction is a lifelong battle, one I still fight every single day.” Do you still feel that way?

    Steve Madden

    Oh yes, of course. Of course, yes. I mean, is it imminent? Am I like, “Oh my God, I got to call my dealer!”? It’s not quite like that. It’s just this little … I don’t know what it is about substance abusers, why we’re different. I mean, I have the most wonderful gifts and life, just the luckiest man, I should be dead and I have so many gifts. I just pinch myself sometimes. And then there are mornings where I wake up and I just hate myself and I hate the world. It doesn’t last. You just wake up and it’s there. It’s like, “What? Just the other night I was so grateful, I was like Gandhi. I was Gandhi the other night. What happened to me? What’s going on here?” It’s a bit of that.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Steve Madden, you are an amazing story, the book is great, the Cobbler by Steve Madden. Also, there’s a documentary from a couple years ago that I loved watching called Maddman. Thank you so much for talking with us today on Heart of the Matter.

    Steve Madden

    It was so good to be here. We’ll do it again.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Definitely. Thank you so much for listening to Heart of the Matter today. Take a second to subscribe and rate our podcast if you enjoyed this show. Because only with your support can we continue to transform the way our country addresses addiction. You can find this podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, and of course on our website at DrugFree.Org/Podcast. As a reminder, if you need help with a loved one who’s struggling with substance use, you can text 55753 or visit us at DrugFree.Org. Talk to you soon.

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    Published

    April 2021