Brian Westerhaus, founding partner of Pioneer Management Consulting, said the independent Minneapolis firm has won big corporate clients with a “humble, hungry and connected” approach.

That has helped Pioneer grow to more than 30 consultants and increase revenue nearly 300% since 2017 while working with billion-dollar companies among 11 local clients, Westerhaus said.

It’s also fueling Pioneer’s three-year plan to expand Minneapolis to 50 to 60 consultants and open locations in three additional cities with 30 to 50 consultants each.

Westerhaus launched Pioneer in 2009 after 10 years in consulting. He began hiring consultants after a few years on his own before bringing in Molly Koenen, Nate Caskey and Lane Elmer as partners two years ago.

That move added organizational change and business strategy to Pioneer’s program and project management services.

Pioneer’s consultants, unlike those at most big consulting firm, have no utilization or sales targets, Koenen said.

“There’s nothing distracting a consultant from anything other than value,” Koenen said.

Koenen, who hired Pioneer a few years ago while leading organizational change management for a private global company, joined Pioneer after working with other consulting firms.

Sarah Levin, change management lead for Medtronic, hired Pioneer to create a “heat map” to show how business transformation is affecting various parts of the organization.

“Their level of customer service is exceptional,” Levin said. “They listen to clients and partner with them on effective solutions.”

Chris Deery, vice president and global process owner finance at Cargill, said Pioneer is helping to centralize far-flung finance operations.

“I’ve been massively impressed by them,” Deery said. “There’s a personal touch they provide that some of the big companies can’t.”

Q: Why would you open offices in other cities and limit Pioneer to 60 consultants here?

Westerhaus: What we don’t know is the point at which our culture will start deteriorating in terms of size. We know that there is some sweet spot. We’ve got a hypothesis that it’s 50 to 60 people.

Koenen: We’d rather stabilize and know that we’ve got the best talent in the market. We’d rather turn down work than do it in a way that you can’t do it exceptionally well.

Q: How is Pioneer “humble, hungry and connected”?

Westerhaus: We are very methodical with our culture being the lens with which we make all of our decisions. Humble is you love to be behind the scene in service to others. Hungry is we all need to be insatiable in terms of learning and growing. We want the big problems. We want to work on them with our clients. Connected is to each other, to our clients who most times end up as friends and to the things we love in the community.

Q: Without utilization and sales targets, how do you evaluate consultants?

Westerhaus: Client satisfaction and the engagement score of our team. They’re at the center of everything so we’re methodical, maniacal almost, about getting feedback from clients. We’re over 90% in terms of our client satisfaction and our engagement score is 88%.

Growth comes from that and new opportunities come from that. You bring in the right people, they’re the right fit with your culture, you deliver well and the rest is going to take care of itself without having to push behaviors that aren’t part of us as a company.


Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is