Women In Power: Steve Madden’s Top 3 Female Execs Share Career Advice

Over their long tenures at Steven Madden Ltd., Amelia Newton Varela, Karla Frieders and Sloan Tichner have learned a lot from their charismatic boss, Steve Madden. Here, the three seasoned executives share the advice that’s most inspired them.

Amelia Newton Varela, president
Biggest opportunity in my new role: “There is tremendous potential to expand into other categories outside of footwear and handbags. I am also enthusiastic about the opportunity in our kids’ and international divisions. Customer experience also is a major focal point. We have to constantly think about retail innovation, from click to brick and vice versa.”

Best advice: “Steve taught me you can always change your mind — that you have to be nimble and read the needs of the business and pivot to stay relevant. Another great piece of advice is to know what you know and know what you don’t know.”

Female mentors: “Two [women] who not only inspire and mentor me today, but did so in the earliest stages of my career are [Kohl’s] Carol Baiocchi and [Dillard’s] Julie Taylor. When I first started in customer service and key accounts [at Steve Madden], I would watch Carol and what an amazing merchant she was. I could see her looking at the product during market and envisioning exactly what her shoe floor would look like. Julie is another strong businesswoman and incredible merchant. I saw her overcome a lot of business obstacles and succeed at every level. She made me think I could do anything.”

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

Karla Frieders, chief merchandise officer
Biggest opportunity in my new role: “To leverage our great product, across all brands and platforms. We are building shoes every day in our Queens, N.Y., sample factory. This gives us the ability to test and react, using our stores, to gauge which items make the most sense and where we can get the best results for any particular style. The speed in which we can do that is one of our great advantages.”

Best advice: “Steve always tells us that if we put the product first, everything else will fall into place. It keeps us focused on our priorities. He also walks around writing on walls, ‘Progress not perfection.’ If we try too hard to be perfect, we usually miss the mark.”

Female mentor: “I’ve been at Madden for 17 years, working side by side with Amelia Newton Varela. She always thinks outside the box and challenges us to do the same. Every idea is worth talking about, and she makes it easy for us to brainstorm together.”

Karla Frieders Steve Madden
Karla Frieders.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand.

Sloan Tichner, president of handbags
Biggest opportunity in my new role: “Even as we navigate the rapid changes in culture and technology, it’s still all about great product and connecting with our customer. It is exciting for the handbags division to be part of bringing our brand to our newest generation of customers.”

Best advice: “There are always going to be periods when your goals seem out of reach. Steve once told me to use the analogy of pushing a heavy rock uphill. There are stretches when you won’t be able to move the rock forward or days when it may roll back toward you. [You have] to stay focused and keep pushing forward and you will get that rock to the top.”

Female mentors: “I have been lucky to have the support and mentoring of Amelia Newton Varela throughout my career. She has empowered me to become a better manager by building a great team and showing leadership by example. I’ve also found inspiration from the many working women who are successfully navigating the challenges of building their careers while finding balance in their family life.”

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