Steve Madden on putting his best foot forward

Women's shoe mogul Steve Madden discusses his rise to the top of the industry, and why a 2.5-year prison sentence may have been the most important event of his life
Women's shoe mogul Steve Madden discusses his... 07:23

Through a lifetime full of ups and downs, a major innovator in the field of footwear has never stopped his soul searching. This morning he shares some of his experiences with our Faith Salie:

It was, Steve Madden said, the hardest job he ever had: working in a shoe store.

Why? "You know, trying to please women is difficult," he laughed.

If you're not sure who Steve Madden is, look down.

The footwear mogul whose shoes are sold in nearly 60 countries enjoys every part of the business, including weekly visits to his own New York stores.

He even knows the name of about all of his shoe styles, including the Robin, the Marco, and the Rawlings.

"How do you remember all of them?" asked Salie.

"Well, this is what I do."

And Madden does it well. Last year his company walked off with more than $1.3 billion in sales.

"I probably have 20 pairs of Steve Madden shoes," said one customer.

Another customer said, "They are comfortable, and they are really stylish, and the price is really good."

From boots to sandals to stilettos, Madden designs many of his top-selling shoes at his factory in the New York City borough of Queens, not far from the Long Island suburb where he grew up.

Shoe designer Steve Madden. CBS News

Visiting his old hometown, Madden told Salie, "It's a nice feeling -- people are much nicer to me than when I was growing up, that's for sure."

At age 16, he got his first job in a Cedarhurst shoe store.

"When you walk in, decades and decades later, and you see a whole display of your own shoes, are you used to that already?" asked Salie.

"No, I'm not used to it," Madden said. "It feels great."

So what is it about shoes that grabs him? "I suppose, the marriage of art and commerce is interesting."

Growing up on Long Island, did he feel any heat for being a guy who was interested in ladies' shoes?

"Absolutely," Madden replied. "Most of my friends would get on the train and go into the city. And I would go to the town that I lived in and worked in a shoe store with a shoe horn sticking out of my pocket. And they laughed at me.

"It seemed like my prospect was dim."

So in 1975, he enrolled at the University of Miami, but he wasn't interested in school work. He majored, he said, in sun tanning and drugs "I didn't last long there," he said. "My father wouldn't pay any more. He called me up and he said, 'Go get a job. You're not taking this seriously, and I'm not wasting my money.'"

So he ended up working at a shoe store.

And he put his best foot forward. With only $1,100 in the bank, he started selling a clog he named the Marilyn. The shoe was an instant hit. Within three years, Madden had opened his first store in New York's trendy Soho.