The odds may have been against the WSP USA’s Enginuity team from New York, but that never got in the way of their quest to become grand champions of the international engineering competition.
Never Tell Me the Odds, a four-member team with a name inspired by the famous Han Solo quote, not only won Enginuity 2017, but became the first U.S. team to do so. The winning team was composed of Matthew Beller, Vincent T. Favale, Joseph Salvo and Brendan Tyler, all part of the New York City building systems group.
“It’s a very exciting feeling that we got the chance to be the first championship team from the U.S.,” Favale said. “It was a very proud moment for all of us.”
More than 200 teams from around the world participated in this year’s Enginuity competition, where participants experience “real world” challenges that corporate management faces on a daily basis.
Competing teams managed a simulated UK-based global construction business, responding to computer-simulated world events, economic changes, environmental impacts, clients, project managers, rival competitors and other elements that impacted the business. Success or failure depended on the decisions each team made in several key business areas.
In each round, they received team-specific data detailing the company’s current situation, and made decisions in four categories: financial, marketing, procurement and job progression. The standings were based on the sum of 10 key performance indicators (KPI).
“The KPI formulas are set up so that each decision is a trade-off, and you don’t always see the benefit right away,” Salvo said. “It’s hard to make decisions knowing they may hurt your score in the short term – we weren’t even in the top 50 in the first two rounds. Thinking ahead two or three periods is required to avoid major trouble, and we worked that into our decision-making and calculations.”
The process repeated once per week for eight weeks, at which time the field was reduced to the top 12 teams, who were put in direct conflict with one another over suddenly-finite resources, such as bidding jobs, hiring project managers, and paying dividends.
“The finals required even tougher decision-making in a much shorter window of time,” Salvo said. “Suddenly, resources were subject to the volatility of human decision-making. Previous team debates about statistics and efficiency instead turned to psychology and game theory. It was simultaneously the most interesting and the most difficult part of the competition.”
The final round of the playoff was also the most volatile, as the impact of decisions made earlier in the competition was setting the stage for a final showdown.
“A few rounds earlier, we noticed a situation where we might be able to make a move on labor near the end, which could give us large short-term gains if everything worked out the way we envisioned,” Salvo said. “No guts, no glory – so in the final round we went for it. Turns out that was the right move. Our most volatile KPIs shot up while leaving the rest intact, helping to maximize our score at the last minute.”
Throughout the competition, Never Tell Me the Odds would make its initial calculations in a few hours, then spend days analyzing and debating what those numbers meant. While some actions were determined by formulas, the most impactful decisions were judgment calls.
“Those brainstorming sessions were a vital part of our process,” Salvo said. “Fortunately, we have all worked together on projects in the past, so we had that level of trust that makes a team work.”
The competition results reinforced the importance of collaboration.
“We were able to learn from both the good and bad results as a team,” Beller said. “Keeping our focus on the long-term goals allowed us to remain focused on the main objective rather than get bogged down about who made a decision and placing blame. This was the key to our success.”
“It paints a bigger picture of our industry,” Favale added. “You get a feel for different parts of the construction process, and how different factors can impact a project, both good and bad.”
This was the first Enginuity competition for Favale, Beller and Tyler, and the second for Salvo. “My team last year came in second place by a razor-thin margin, so there was an element of unfinished business,” Salvo said.
It was Favale who first entertained the idea of putting the team together.
“When Vinny approached me about forming a team from our building systems group, that was enough to draw me back in,” Salvo said.
“I had heard about the competition and was interested in learning more about what it entailed,” Beller added. “I naturally thought that there was no better way to learn about it than to just jump right in.”
“The best part was we were able to create a team of friends and co-workers,” Favale said. “That made the whole experience very enjoyable.”
Salvo, an electrical engineer, is involved with multiple U.S. embassy projects worldwide, including high-profile projects in Mexico City and New Delhi.
Beller, a heating-ventilation-air conditioning engineer, is also involved in a number of U.S. embassy projects worldwide and large projects locally in New York City.
Favale and Tyler are plumbing/fire protection engineers. Favale is involved in several high-profile projects, including work for Mohegan Sun, Wells Fargo Center, and redevelopment in Jersey City, New Jersey. In addition to the New Dehli project, Tyler is involved with 50 Hudson, the Tin Building, and the new USTA Louis Armstrong Stadium.
“It feels good to represent our country, and our company, in a positive way in an international competition,” Salvo said. “We’re definitely proud. It’s only fitting that we were able to put WSP’s name at the top of this list.”
“There is real pride in knowing that we were able to excel to the highest level and leave a legacy in the competition,” Matthew added.
Salvo said it’s a possibility that Never Tell Me the Odds will be back next year to defend its title.
“I imagine we will come back, but it’s hard to be sure,” he said. “It’s a major effort that spans almost four months. But I suppose that’s what I said last year, too. I’d tell you the odds of our return, but, well, you know …”
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