President and CEO of Shea Homes since 2002, Bert Selva has guided Shea's ascent to the No. 1 ranking among privately-held home builders in the United States, in both closings and revenues. Recognized as one of America's Best Builders by BUILDER magazine, Shea Homes is a division of J.F. Shea, Inc., which helped construct San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge in the 1930s. The company operates in California, Arizona, Colorado, Washington state, and North Carolina. Selva holds degrees from USC and UCLA, and lives in Newport Beach, Calif., along with wife Cindie, two teenage sons, and a 7-year-old daughter. Selva spoke with BIG BUILDER last month.

BB: What's the biggest advantage of being a private home builder?

BS: I think flexibility and looking long term. We focus on the markets that we want to be in. I think fundamentally, we tend to push margin. We are in a lot of supply-constrained markets. With a great land basis, why would we want to push volume when reloading that land is that much more expensive?

BB: No urge to go public?

BS: None. We take the best of what the public companies do. There is a certain urgency and certain metrics that they live by, and we compare ourselves to that, but we are looking long term. It's great to do that because, sometimes, quarterly [reporting forces] you to make decisions for the short term versus the long term.

BB: How well is your company positioned to withstand a down market?

FAMILY FUN: Bert Selva relaxes with his wife, Cindie, his two sons, Jordan and Spencer, his daughter, McCallister, and the family dog. “We take the best of what the public companies do,” he says. BS: We are. We have a tremendously strong balance sheet. We continue to be investment grade, we manage to conservative metrics. Our land basis is relatively low, and we've gotten very favorable deal structures with a lot of auction lots for the future.

BB: In a cooler market, do private builders face a special challenge or does it all boil down to size, whether public or private?

BS: At the end of the day, it is large versus small. We get all the economies of scale. I match all our numbers against the publics on a monthly basis. We compete with all of them. Just because we're private doesn't mean we don't have urgency. We just don't have the same kind of pressures the publics do.

BB: Let's talk family. You have sons 18 and 16, and a 7-year-old daughter, McCallister. How much does she run things at home?

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Francisco, CA.