Early for my appointment with architect Madeline Anz Slay, I kill some time by driving around the Balcones Heights neighborhood where both her office and home are located. It’s an older, leafy area that was incorporated as a municipality in 1948. On Altgelt Avenue, Slay Architecture shares a picturesque building with Slay Engineering operated by Madeline’s husband, Michael Slay. Quaint benches are positioned against the low front wall, and the entrance door is a heavy, handcrafted affair that challenges your arm muscles. “This was Balcones Heights’ city hall,” explains Anz Slay after greeting me inside and taking me on a tour of the facility. “It was built in the O’Neil Ford style and won a design award in 1970. We bought it from the city in 2006 and renovated and adapted it for our needs.” Expectations of quaintness vanish as we pass work cubicles and conference rooms with movable walls and high-tech equipment for just about everything, from video-conferencing and computer design to lighting and air conditioning. Employees can regulate the air flow near their desks and turn lights on and off from their computer. Only the ground floor Saltillo tiles remain unchanged. In her office on the second floor, Anz Slay shows me a detailed map of the suburb that she’s now partially in charge of governing as a city council member. “One of the reasons I wanted to be on the council is because I believe that a number of areas have to be redeveloped,” she explains. “All our commercial areas are run down. We want to revitalize the city. We are close to the Medical Center, and we believe we are in such a great location. My husband and I can get to the airport in no time. There are so many conveniences for people who live here.”
The small city is lucky to have her. As the president of Slay Architecture, she knows a few things about revitalization, design and building. Her firm’s projects can be found throughout the San Antonio area and beyond, all the way to Laredo, where the company has a second outpost. Most of the Vineyard Shopping Center on Loop 1604 and Blanco, including the new Whole Foods store, has been designed by her team, as were the City of Garden Ridge Municipal Complex, the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Building at Southwest Research Institute, the Behavioral Research Laboratory at UTSA and the Kronkosky Place — Rainbow Senior Center in Boerne. In partnership with two other firms, Slay Architecture has also had a hand in the successful design of the new San Antonio College Academic Center (with West East Design Group) and the San Antonio Public Safety Headquarters downtown (with Ford Powell Carson). In addition, the company has worked on many school renovations and expansions, multiple University Health System projects, master plans, hotels, historical renovation and private residences. A number of these have won awards from the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the Conservation Society, the San Antonio Business Journal and the South Texas Associated Builders & Contractors. And Slay Architecture placed 33rd on the Initiative-for-a-Competitive-Inner-City’s 2008 list of 100 fastest-growing small businesses in American inner cities.
Though she employs 11 people, including two other licensed architects, Anz Slay gets involved in every project personally. “Our biggest private clients like to deal with me,” she notes, “but it’s increasingly getting to where I am mostly doing business development and management. I do like the business side, but I am supervising every project even though I don’t do the nuts and bolts of them.” The company handles some 30 to 40 projects a year corresponding to roughly $1.8 million in revenue. Among them are a couple of additions to the Vineyard Shopping Center. The center’s owners couldn’t be more satisfied. “Madeline is very creative, designs good buildings and understands costs and materials,” says Johnny Stevens, partner in the Vineyard Shopping Center LLC. “She also works quickly and is punctual. When she gets on a project, she gets it done. In fact, I am considering using her for projects in other cities as well.”;
A businesswoman and a volunteer
Having grown up around a father who ran a construction company, Anz Slay says she’s always wanted to have her own business. Even though her dad worked hard, “he owned his time,” which is something that appealed to her. Besides, she just had that entrepreneurial spirit. As a young girl she collected pretty rocks from the family ranch and sold them to her cousins from Lubbock. In another early venture, she sold cookies and sandwiches to her father’s workers. Following graduation from Texas A&M in 1991, the young woman worked with a couple of different firms before striking out on her own. In a lucky turn of events, her last employer, prominent local firm RVK Architects, became her first customer. “They hired me to finish the project I had worked on with them,” she says. “To this day, I think of them as my mentors and friends.” Starting a solo business may be scary, but that was not the case with her. “I was so young, I just dove in. I just thought, I can do this,” she says.
And she was right. Fear crept in later when the 2008-09 recession hit. Private sector clients stopped building, putting her firm and its then-24 employees in jeopardy. No one got fired, however. To retain the staff, the president offered them unpaid leave while continuing to pay for their health benefits. That’s when doubt reared its ugly head, too. “I wasn’t sure whether I was the dumbest or the smartest business person for doing that,” she admits. As it turned out, it was a good strategy. As the economy began to recover, a former client decided to resume work on a number of projects, and the Slay team was promptly put back to work because they already knew the requirements of the job. “I couldn’t have done that if I had to hire and train new people,” she explains. Her former employers also introduced her to her future husband, Michael Slay, to whom she’s been married for 16 years. Twenty-one years her senior, he jokes that Madeline is both his first wife and his trophy wife. The couple have no children but enjoy the company of 14 nieces and nephews and eight grandnieces and grandnephews. “We can be the cool aunt and uncle,” she says with a chuckle. Through her volunteer work, Anz Slay also contributes to the well-being of needy kids at the St. Peter-St. Joseph Children’s Home, where she has been a board member for a long time. Two great-great-aunts were nuns who worked at the home, and her grandmother’s cousins grew up there following their parents’ death. Because of these connections, the grandmother, Marguerite Trenton Anz, was involved with St. PJ her whole life. In 2007, her granddaughter established an education fund in her memory to benefit St. PJ’s children.
While the shelter may be the closest to her heart, Anz Slay finds the time to serve the community in a myriad of other ways. And she seems to be a leader in every organization she joins, such as the AIA and the National Association of Women Business Owners. Her resumé as a volunteer is as impressive as her business bio. “I have been on a lot of boards,” she acknowledges. “I like being busy, so I just make the time. But I also meet a lot of people that way. It’s important for a businessperson to be out there in the community. So, it’s two-fold: I enjoy it and it’s also useful. There’s so much to learn from other people.”
To her many awards and recognitions this year she’s added membership in the San Antonio Women’s Hall of Fame that honored her for helping other women.
So what would be a dream project for this driven, capable lady? Her face lights up as she answers: “This city! Balcones Heights has become a passion of mine. We are primed for redevelopment, and I am so excited about it.”