Anna Muller knew her 4-foot-11-inch frame gave her an unassuming air.
She was well aware of the fact that many people’s first inclination on meeting her was to underestimate her.
But Muller, a giant in Downtown Albuquerque’s business scene, also knew it was a mistake people made only once.
“I would laugh with her because she would tell me, she told me many times, she was very grateful to be less than 5 feet tall because, she said, everybody always underestimated her,” said Tina Cordova, a longtime friend and client. “That’s how she was.”
For years, Muller worked tirelessly as an advocate for small minority-owned businesses, helping them secure loans, lobbying the federal government for small-business funding and everything in between.
Muller died Oct. 22 in her sister’s home in Fremont, California, following several years of declining health. She was 77.
Cordova said Muller made “more … minority business owners (into) millionaires than anybody else in New Mexico” over her lengthy career, which included founding NEDA Business Consultants Inc.
“She stood side by side with people and stuck her neck out for them,” Cordova said.
In terms of business savvy, Cordova said, Muller stood alone.
“She was a kind and generous person, but she was as tough as they come,” Cordova said. “I have known people in business from everywhere and Anna was, by far, the smartest, most astute business person I’ve ever known, bar none – men, women included.”
New Mexico born
Born in Albuquerque in 1943, Muller spent her early childhood chasing sheep and herding goats on her family’s 300-year-old ranch in Los Cordovas, near Taos.
Her northern New Mexican roots were a point of pride for Muller and, as an adult, she often made weekend trips to Taos and Los Cordovas, even purchasing a small chapel previously owned by her grandmother.
After her parents divorced, Muller’s mother found work in factories in California, and took Muller and sister Frankie Veronda with her.
Veronda said the family struggled with money, but, as adults, she and her sister would always remind themselves of that time.
“I used to say, ‘Anna, we’re tough, we’re girls from the projects,’ ” Veronda said.
As a young adult, Muller hitchhiked her way back to New Mexico and eventually settled in Albuquerque, claiming Downtown as her neighborhood or her “hood,” as she would often call it.
Muller’s dedication to the neighborhood lasted the rest of her life.
Veronda said her sister loved that it was eclectic, diverse and was a “real neighborhood” where people knew each other.
Dedicated to Downtown
While living in Downtown, Muller helped establish the Downtown Neighborhoods Association and the Downtown Growers’ Market, ended the practice of redlining in the neighborhood and purchased several historic buildings, including the S.H. Kress Building at 414 Central.
“She used to say she wasn’t taking her money out of Downtown,” Veronda said. “She thought she owned Downtown. She thought it was hers.”
Muller became a well-known resident of the neighborhood, making a point to know and befriend everyone who lived and worked in Downtown.
“She never met a person that didn’t become her friend,” said longtime friend Nancy Salem.
Friends and clients said Muller was known for strolling the sidewalks of Central in couture fashion purchased in San Francisco, or riding her bike with the back basket filled with groceries.
She often remarked that she would never go east of Broadway, barring the occasional trip to the Dillard’s make-up counter.
Titan in her world
In the small-business community, Muller was a titan, a shrewd businesswoman, a political operative, a source of knowledge and endless connections, and a dedicated defender of her clients.
“Anna was never married, she never had children, and she spent her entire life working on behalf of business people,” Cordova said. “And, you know, we all owe her a great deal. A huge debt, actually.”
In her 20s, Muller worked alongside the federal government to establish the first federal minority business programs, later using her extensive knowledge of small-business programs to the benefit of her clients.
Throughout the decades, she forged close ties and friendships with New Mexican politicians – including now-U.S. Sen.-elect Ben Ray Luján and outgoing U.S. Sen. Tom Udall – as well as with other politicians at the national level, often lobbying them on behalf of small businesses.
“She was tiny, but (politicians) used to shake in their boots when Anna came in the room because she was a force to be reckoned with professionally, that’s for sure,” Salem said.
Muller befriended politicians on both sides of the aisle and hosted events in Washington, D.C., and at her Albuquerque home to maintain her ties to the government to best help her clients secure government contracts.
Her relationships to government officials and the business community ran so deep that her word alone could be enough to secure a deal or loan for a client.
“People knew that she knew when someone was going to be successful, they knew and understood that she did her homework,” Cordova said.
Former Taos Mayor Darren Córdova said he successfully grew his radio broadcasting business thanks to Muller’s guidance.
When he struggled to find a bank to take him on, Muller accompanied him to the bank and persuaded the bankers to take him on as a client.
“Without her help, I just don’t think it would have been possible,” he said. “She took a high in helping the small-business person, the ones that had the odds against them, especially minority-owned businesses.”