Ghilotti calls Tran a "shining star" in the contractors group whose active role led to their respective firms' joint venture on a $14-million infrastructure contract on the city's Candlestick Park stadium redevelopment. "HT speaks his mind but is not overpromoting and underperforming," says Ghilotti. While Anvil foresees strong work prospects from a continued Bay Area boom, the firm is looking more broadly in California, including possible projects from Gov. Jerry Brown's $1-billion drought spending bill, announced last month, and federal infrastructure work.

While observers speculate on how Anvil and Tran will handle growth and movement out of small-business-contract eligibility, "he won't be like others who exceed the range and can't thrive," says Breslin, a key mentor. Kevin Kilgore, a board adviser and FMI principal, points to talent retention and "the foundation [the firm] created." He says Tran "embodies leadership of the future, which is working in a participatory style." But adds adviser Todd Arris, a veteran San Francisco real estate developer, "HT will have to keep balance as the company grows and won't be able to have one-on-one interaction."

Young peers are intrigued. "What HT is doing takes a tremendous amount of courage," says Emily Cohen, 30, UCon's government relations director and a Tran confidante. "You watch that as a millennial, and it shows that you can do it too."

Says Tran, "The goal at Anvil is to affect change the same way I did in the Army, whether it's now or a ways out. Hopefully, the industry now is recognizing our brand, the impact we're having, how we want to be perceived and how we want to move forward."

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