Wendy Madden worked with her husband for 14 years before romantic sparks started to fly.
The former Wendy Ballew was one of Steve Madden’s first employees and even shared a desk with him. “I did everything at the start,” she recalled, from answering phones to writing shipping labels.
The exec quickly became dependent on her efficiency and expertise. “When I would go away for Christmas, he’d call me back early,” she said. “Things wouldn’t get done if I wasn’t there.”
By the time Madden went to jail in 2002, he and Ballew had grown to be close friends and she visited him regularly in jail. It was during his prison stint that the romance blossomed.
Now, after four years of marriage and a set of twins, Madden still heads to the office every day as director of operations. And her husband has also entrusted her with the task of serving as employee liaison. “I’m [Steve’s] connection to the staff, and vice versa. As wife of the founder, I find myself able to have a positive impact.”
Like her husband, Madden’s favorite part of the business is interacting with people. Attending footwear shows is a highlight for the couple. “Steve’s very hands-on,” said Madden. “At the shows, he’s constantly working. His role hasn’t changed [regarding] what he gets involved in, he just gets involved more.”
She added, “He’s a shoe king. He has a passion that shows through in everything he touches. Others dip their toe in the water; he does a cannonball.”
Five longtime Madden employees weigh in on life at the company.
Ruth Hare, director of retail operations
What’s she’s learned: “I’ve learned just how intimate of an experience it is to sell shoes. A woman will always reveal herself when she comes into our stores looking for the perfect pair of shoes.”
Best part of the job: “I work with people who are passionate about selling shoes. I feel we’ve changed the industry through our passion and commitment to always exceeding our customer’s expectations. There is no customer more loyal than the Steve Madden customer.”
Karla Frieders, SVP of retail
What she’s learned: [Every trend] comes around again, only more fitting for the times. It’s so cool to watch that happen.”
Best part of the job: “Steve’s a role model for everyone. I’ve spent enough time with him to know that his mind is constantly running. It inspires us to think on our own and outside the box. He’s [put a lot of trust in] me and encouraged me to run my piece of the business.”
Angela Aviles, director of account services, wholesale
Best part of the job: “I feel like I’m part of an amazing family. Steve’s like my big brother. Sometimes I love him to death and sometimes he drives me crazy. I also love having been part of the company’s evolution. I wore Steve Madden shoes when I first interviewed for the job at the store. I had them on when I graduated from college and when I got married. “
Hanah Sanasie, assistant corporate controller
What she’s learned: “You can’t become complacent after a good season or year in the fashion footwear segment. Working with Steve and his staff, I’ve seen the value of design and value-oriented product — key components to our success. Maintaining a factory at our headquarters [enables us] to make small [runs], then test them in our stores. It’s saved us time, resources and money.”
Best part of the job: “Employee loyalty. Our company has grown from less than 100 employees to more than 2,000 in 14 years. You can walk into any department and find a handful of employees with 10-plus years of service. Steve’s [created] opportunities for many. He’s an inspirational leader who shows appreciation for everyone, especially his employees.”
Sandy Rogan, VP of human resources
What she’s learned: “The shoe industry is a very tight-knit community. Through my association with the Two Ten Footwear Foundation, I’ve found [the organization] very supportive of its members. While [companies] may compete for market share and the best talent in the business, there’s a cooperative spirit among anyone who’s worked in footwear.
Best part of the job: “There’s an amazing vibe, where everyone has a sense of urgency and commitment. Then there’s our culture, where your title or position is not nearly as important as your contribution or point of view.”