Shoe CEO Switches to Big Law
Yesterday we caught up with Jamieson Karson, who spent seven years as the CEO of Steve Madden. Now he's applying that experience to the corporate practice at Dentons. (He most likely has the best taste in shoes in the office, no offense to the rest of the lawyers.)
Jamie gave us two big business lessons that he's picked up along the way, heading a company now worth more than $2 billion. 1) Stay very focused on the core customer, market toward it, and never lose sight of it. 2) When people believe in and buy into the vision for the company, they can move mountains. He was a partner at Tannenbaum Helpern before becoming Steve Madden CEO in '01, then went back to practicing law in '09 at McCarter & English until joining Dentons a few weeks ago. We snapped Jamie in Dentons' office at 1221 Avenue of the Americas in New York (though he tells us he's often in DC, where his daughter is interning with Bloomberg).
Law and retail aren't so different, he says: in the end, you're only as good as your product. He observes that law firms take in a lot of data that they could utilize more fully--but at the heart of the business, it's about providing a quality service, knowing your field, and understanding your clients' needs. And no matter how much billing or data collection changes, that's never going to go away.
Jamie sent us this picture of him and Steve Madden (second from the left, in his ever-present baseball cap). The two were childhood friends who lost touch during college and reconnected when Jamie was already a lawyer who'd practiced in the area of retail and manufacturing. The industry's also in his blood--Jamie's family was in the retail and manufacturing business and his grandfather was one of the first employees at Barneys. He tells us he and Steve Madden are both ardent golfers. (Jamie's top five courses: Bethpage Black, Pebble Beach, Shinnecock, Fishers Island, Pine Valley.)
Corporate governance has changed a lot since he started out. Just think, Sarbanes-Oxley didn't even exist. NASDAQ and other exchange rules have also tightened up since--it's all for the best, he says, but it's different. Nowadays, shareholders are becoming more concerned about directors having true independence, and want directors who have served for a long time to act independently. Heading Steve Madden while Steve was in prison, Jamie says it was extraordinary to see people come together to continue building the company in its founder's absence. He's seen it all, and now he's back on the legal side--he's a shoe-in for the job.