Kim Shelpman's entrée into home building's player's club was pretty much through the backdoor. In 2000, as a mortgage industry veteran, she coordinated a joint venture between Milwaukee-based Guarantee Bank and Melbourne, Fla.-based Holiday Builders. The result was Shelter Mortgage, and Shelpman became the JV's vice president. Two years later, she joined Holiday's board of directors and then signed on as president of the employee-owned company in August 2006.

Kim Shelpman Photo: Jamie Windon Since then, Shelpman has tightened the organization's focus on the first-time buyer, a strategy intended to hone a competitive edge during this challenged market. In January, the former college basketball star spoke with news editor Sarah Yaussi about teamwork, teeing off, and traveling in 2008.

BB: You've made no secret about looking at tier-two markets as possible expansion areas. Can you tell me a little about this plan and identify any specific markets that interest you?

KS: Our formula is really to maintain a lean operation to be able to move quickly and efficiently in these tier-two markets. We're looking in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama. We are concentrating on [them] heavily.

BB: Do you think a heavy concentration on the first-time buyer niche has buffered Holiday from some of the market's challenges?

KS: Absolutely. There was a time during the boom where state first-time home buyer program money was just sitting idle. Nobody was even using it. I've seen a real switch. Now, because [buyers] are going to occupy the properties, they are able to tap into the special fundings, the "go zones," bond financing and second-mortgage help for them to get into a house. And our price model fits into that type of financing.

BB: There is a lot of talk about what happens once the bank regulators start coming in and evaluating banks' portfolios and their exposure to risk in home building. How concerned are you about that?

KS: We transact business in a conservative manner. I think we will be just fine.

For other companies, absolutely [it's a concern]. There's going to be a lot of news coming out on that front in this next quarter. I think we're all going to learn from this.

BB: Of the major decisions you've made as CEO, which stands out as being most valuable in these challenging times?

KS: When I first started, I rolled out our customer initiative focus. We refocused on our communication with internal as well as external customers. It was employee based; it was customer based. Our customer service ratings have skyrocketed since that. Our employee morale has changed tenfold.

BB: I was surprised to learn that you were a basketball star in your college days.

KS: Rollins College, which is in Winter Park, Fla., is where I ended up having my basketball career. I was a swing guard. It's called a number two, ... a shooting guard. I still play.

BB: Word has it that you've found a way to combine the finesse of golf with the skill–and thrill–of gambling.

KS: I am an avid golfer. In May, I'm going out to Vegas to play in the World Series of Golf. It's where the sport is combined with Texas Hold 'Em.

BB: Do you enjoy travel?

KS: I am a cruise-aholic. I try to take an exotic cruise every year. My last one was the South Pacific–Bora Bora, Tahiti. This year, I am looking at the Greek Isles.

BB: How do you decompress when you are closer to home?

KS: I'm a passionate cook. I love to cook. ... When I retire from the building business, I plan on going to culinary school.