Reve Consulting Thinks with the Heart

Reve Consulting Thinks with the Heart

Rêve Consulting blends “technical acumen and heart” in their strategic consulting practice.

Kristin Pardue and Brad von Bank both have splendid corporate-executive résumés. They’ve had responsibilities over product development, information technology, marketing strategy, and innovation practices for companies including Target, General Mills, General Electric, and Carlson Hotels Worldwide.

So it’s a little surprising to meet these two high achievers in a small building on West Broadway in the heart of Minneapolis’ challenged North Side. But it’s exactly where they both want to be. The modest two-story structure is home to Rêve Consulting LLC, the business strategy firm that Pardue founded in 2009. Von Bank joined a year later, after overseeing the business side of the Target.com re-platforming. Just down the hall from their office is their other venture: Rêve Academy, which offers after-school and summer classes in information technology for north Minneapolis teens.

So what was the strategy there? Three years ago, while serving as vice president of strategy, innovation, and improvement at Carlson Hotels, Pardue perceived “a growing market need to bring some new way of thinking about developing growth strategies in the marketplace, one that combined both technical acumen and heart.” By “heart,” Pardue means combining data analysis with a close understanding of what can be termed a client’s emotional side—its relationships with its customers and its own aspirations. In setting up philanthropic activity as a foundation of its firm, rather than adding it on later, Pardue and von Bank were expressing their own profressional and personal aspirations. The word “rêve,” after all, is French for “dream.”

Pardue and von Bank, who are married, met while working at General Electric’s Twin Cities operations. Thirteen years ago, von Bank worked with the Rev. Greg Tolaas, a Roman Catholic priest long associated with the University of St. Thomas who left the university to serve the Church of St. Philip, a north Minneapolis parish. Von Bank, one of an army of UST students and alumni who helped Tolaas set up social programs in the parish neighborhood, established a program that donated used corporate computers to kids in north Minneapolis. That work would become a basis of Rêve Academy.

While Pardue says that Rêve Consulting “brings best-of-class methodologies to small to medium-size businesses,” its clients also include Capella, Caribou Coffee, and California-based clothing company Cherokee. Its clients are primarily in retail, health care, and education; it also consults with companies in financial services, consumer packaged goods, and manufacturing. The firm has five employees, along with three outside consultants. The founders expect to have 10 full-time staffers by year’s end, thanks to a big client that Rêve signed this summer. Last year, the company’s revenue grew 400 percent.

By and large, clients are asking Rêve to help them handle disruption in their marketplace that’s usually technology driven. “[We are] working with executives who may need an outside perspective on what technology advancements mean to their business model,” von Bank says. “‘What do they mean to the competitive landscape in our industry?’ That’s really our sweet spot.”

Perhaps another way of looking at it: How should a business adapt to a new generation of customers and their tech savvy? Nearly a year and half ago, St. Paul–based Degree of Honor, a fraternal insurance association that has been in business for 125 years, contracted with Rêve to develop a strategic plan. Soon, Rêve also was asked to help update Degree of Honor’s website and other IT capabilities. Degree of Honor, Pardue says, “came out of the financial crisis very well. But they understood that their brand doesn’t necessarily translate in terms of new membership.” Most members were older, and Degree of Honor wasn’t “seeing new policies being issued for younger people.” Having had unprofitable experiences with other strategy consultants, Jacqueline Felling, Degree of Honor’s CEO and national president, terms Rêve “a breath of fresh air. They were able to get staff and our board comfortable and engaged….They built trust quite quickly.” Rêve, she adds “is very aware of our culture, of our history, and where we wanted to take the company.”

Felling adds that Degree of Honor, which also has a culture of community involvement, felt a bond with Rêve Consulting and its work in north Minneapolis. Rêve Academy has required both an emotional and financial commitment; Pardue and von Bank funded the academy themselves in its first year. They now are seeking outside financial and operational partners, with plans to make it self-sustaining. Forty students attended Rêve Academy in 2011, its first year of operation; this summer, it taught more than 200. “We think we can continue to scale and reach 3,000 high school–age kids in North Minneapolis,” von Bank says.

Pardue and von Bank view Rêve Academy as a part of their consultancy’s brand, and as a key recruiting tool. “Today’s millennials don’t view volunteer opportunities as a nice-to-have—it’s a must-have,” von Bank says. “So they’re looking for organizations that can bring that to them.” He and Pardue also have heard from older job candidates seeking that same kind of company culture.

Above all, Pardue and von Bank see Rêve Academy playing a role in the rising fortunes of its neighborhood. “Bringing private-sector jobs to West Broadway is going to be really important for any sort of transformation,” von Bank says. “We feel that that’s an important part of what we’re about. We have some longer-term and bigger visions around that, too.” The dreams continue.