Women Who Rock: Amelia Newton Varela on Climbing the Ladder at Steve Madden

Amelia Newton Steve Madden
Amelia Newton Varela in the Steve Madden showroom.
George Chinsee.

Amelia Newton Varela landed at Steve Madden by chance nearly two decades ago. Since then, she has risen from a customer-service representative to the company’s top wholesale executive.

How did she get there? Perseverance, determination and a lot of talent.

Here, Newton Varela sounds off on some of the key issues she’s faced in her career and her tips for young women starting out.

How women lead differently than men:
“Women can push aside our egos and change direction to respond to the needs of the business. We know when to be leaders and when to be team players. Women are expert multitaskers and problem-solvers. And being a mother has helped make me a stronger business person. It’s made me more creative, more focused, more productive on the job, and has helped me handle crises better. It’s given me perspective on what’s important and what’s not.”

Navigating a changing industry:
“Business goes up and business goes down – that’s life. What’s not changing is our corporate culture.  The constant at Steve Madden is that someone in customer service today could be a merchandise coordinator tomorrow and one day, president of the company. We will continue to promote from within, continue to identify talented people and grow them. And we’ll continue to live by Steve’s motto of teamwork and speed.”

On her boss and mentor:
“Steve has been very supportive throughout my career. At this company, if you have the talent, work ethic and dedication — whether you are a male or female — you can succeed. Ninety-five percent of the employees at our company are women, and this is a testament to Steve.”

Managing men who were older than she was:
“That was really hard. Right away, they weren’t giving me that respect because I was younger and a woman — I had two things against me. I had to work hard at identifying what they were good at and what they were weak at. Eventually, we made a difference in the business, and they saw that it worked. I didn’t act so much like I was their boss — I wanted to be more of a partner. But it was bumpy at the beginning.”

Advice for women starting their careers:
“Never assume that something is getting done — constant followup is key to success. Make yourself noticed, and get involved in everything. Stay humble as you grow, and make sure you’re continuing to show some respect to yourself. Women tend to never give themselves a pat on the back. Show respect to everyone else, too, no matter what level they’re on.”