“Human beings are funny, though, because we adapt to situations remarkably well,” Steve Madden, a white-collar criminal, told a WWD reporter in his office the other day. He would seem right: After buying Betsey Johnson’s debt and coming up with a plan by which she would pay him back instead of paying some faceless impersonal lender, he has worked out an arrangement with her company so that he now owns it. The folks at Johnson’s company are delighted that Madden, who went to prison six years ago for stock manipulation, money laundering, and securities fraud, now owns them. Just see what Betsey Johnson executive vice-president and chief operating officer Jonathan Friedman has to say about this:
“Whenever you come out of a situation with a good partner, cash coming into the business and the elimination of all debt, what’s not to love?”
Johnson recently lost her longtime CEO Chantal Bacon, who left to travel and enjoy a life without work. When the tiny percentage of friends who talk about leaving New York to go abroad and Find Themselves actually do it, it can make a person reconsider their own life choices and geographic location. And Betsey’s sitting tight.
“I feel born again. I miss my partner Chantal, but she is off having a very happy life. Of course that makes me wonder, ‘Do I want to go there?’ But I don’t. It feels like the gold ole days, starting fresh and free. For everyone, it has been a rough couple of years. Now we can finally fly.”
With Madden the company can focus on expansion — he wants to see shoe sales become 30 percent of total sales over the next twelve months, and to expand the daytime dress category. Betsey Johnson will still handle all design, and Madden assures WWD, “Betsey is my partner. She has nothing to worry about and I will protect her. … She is not on the hook for anything.” That’s sweet. Another good thing about Steve Madden? He’s shamelessly buff:
Asked how his incarceration shaped the way he thinks today, Madden said, “I’m in much better shape. My arms are bigger, my chest is bigger. I worked out a lot. In prison, everybody works out a lot. That’s what you do to fill up the time,” he said, reaching for his cellphone to show a photo of himself bare chested on the beach with his wife, Wendy, and twin sons.
Evidently he also knows how to make lady reporters feel at home in his office.