Steve Madden Speaks To Tulane University Students On Being Self-Made


NEW ORLEANS — If you saw Steve Madden on the streets of New Orleans this week, you probably didn't even realize it. 

Many are unfamiliar with the face, but very few are unfamiliar with the brand. Steve Madden is a household name in the shoe industry – selling millions of pairs of shoes each year in over 360 stores worldwide.

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Students at Tulane University were treated to a rare appearance by the shoe mogul on Wednesday, April 25, during a talk in which he described his personal rise, fall, and resurrection. The talk was moderated by Her Campus co-founder, Windsor Hanger Western, who sponsored the event as part of the media brand’s “Self Made” initiative.

Arriving on the campus inconspicuous, as always, sporting his standard issue baseball cap, t-shirt, and jeans – Madden is probably the last person you’d expect to be a ‘shoe mogul’ let alone the founder of a company valued at almost $3 billion.

During a sit down with Biz New Orleans, when asked what he’d be doing if he wasn’t selling shoes, Madden replied: “I fancy being a cab driver, or an Uber driver.” He followed up with, “or maybe a movie producer,” a role he’s been able to somewhat step into with the release of his 2017 documentary film on Netflix, “Maddman: The Steve Madden Story.”

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During the talk, which drew the attention of over 350 students, Madden shed light on his almost 30-year journey in the footwear industry. Though, his journey started far before 1990.

Madden can recall being in the 7th grade and looking at his class photo. “I was the second smallest person in the class. It was at this moment I knew I wanted to be big.” He didn’t always have a passion for shoes – which, back then, he stuck cardboard in to make him appear taller – what he did have, was a passion for money.

After being pulled out of college in Miami for reckless behavior – something that was previously synonymous with the name ‘Steve Madden’ (before shoes, that is) – he started selling shoes out of the back of his car in New York City. Those old enough in the audience probably recalled the Mary Lou, Madden's version of the Mary Jane – it was at this point Madden realized his calling.

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“I wanted to have the biggest shoe company in America,” Madden said to Western. Considering the talk’s theme was being self made – a concept Madden says is “creating something out of nothing,” it seems he did just that.

The talk was followed by a 30-minute Q&A, in which many excited Tulane students asked Madden colorful questions.

When asked about the shoe veteran’s 2.5-year stint in prison for stock manipulation, money, and securities fraud back in 2002, Madden replied: “I’ve always been a rule breaker. You’ve just got to know which rules you can break.”

But in all seriousness, Madden says, “I’ve been lucky to learn from all of my mistakes. I look at all negative things as opportunities.”

After his time behind bars, Madden even employed some of his fellow inmates at his company. Unfortunately, he’s also had to since fire some of those people. Unlike Madden, not everyone learns from their mistakes.

Madden’s talk was filled with many Tweetable moments, but the main message Madden imparted on the students of Tulane? “Stay out of the shoe business.”


Self Made with Steve Madden was sponsored by Her Campus and The Albert Lepage Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

– by Alexa Harrison, associate news editor

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