As a kid, Lauren Derse (MBA 2010) hit the family business jackpot. Her mom was the CEO and founder of—you guessed it—a chain of toy store franchises. After growing up in small town Massachusetts (and thriving in her role as resident toy tester) Lauren attended Penn State and graduated in 2005 with a degree in marketing. She then spent three years at GE Healthcare as a process improvement consultant before coming to Harvard Business School. Post HBS, she worked as a senior analyst in Nike’s corporate strategy department before returning home to pursue her passion: the business of play.

How did growing up in a family business influence your desire to attend business school?

I always knew there were ways to grow the business that we hadn’t thought of yet, or hadn’t created a plan for yet. I felt business school would inspire ideas for growth and also provide guidance for developing future business plan(s).

Did you think you’d end up working in the family business?

I went into business school with the sole purpose of helping to grow the family business. But within my first few months, I was swept up in the chaos of applying for internships, the allure of working for one of the big three consulting firms (a role I never wanted to return to), and the excitement of entrepreneurship.

All of a sudden, the family business didn’t seem all that glamourous. It was easy to get lost in the herd mentality. It wasn’t until after I graduated, working for a large organization (which was an AMAZING company), that I took a close look at where I wanted to be in the long term. After much self-reflection, I realized my heart was still with my family business. I packed up my bags in beautiful Portland, OR and headed home to central Massachusetts.

Can you tell us about your family business?

There are so many reasons I’m proud to be involved in Learning Express Toys. For one, our stores do so much for their communities. Aside from providing a great assortment of educational and specialty toys, they also offer services such as free gift wrap, free personalization, and expert advice on gift selection.  In addition, through fundraising and donations, our stores really give back to their communities.

On another level, the Learning Express franchise has given families the opportunity to own their own businesses, and the tools and services to do so successfully.  

What is the best part about working in a family business?

Every family business is different. At Learning Express, I am able to work with not only my mother, but also my husband. Even my dog comes to work with us! While it’s difficult not to bring work home with us, my husband and I understand what each other is doing, and it makes conversations outside of work very meaningful. 

In addition, I feel more accountable than at any other business I’ve worked at. While that accountability can be more stressful, I also find it more fun. I know the work I’m doing is making a difference, and that gives me a sense of fulfillment I’ve never had at any other job.

What advice do you have for prospective students (from family business backgrounds) as they consider business school?

Go in with a goal in mind and stick with your priorities. If you have the opportunity to work on family business projects while at school, you’ll be able to internalize what you are learning that much better (and get some real work done while you’re at school!).

What’s your favorite HBS memory?

If my husband is reading this, my answer is of course meeting him. A far second – section shenanigans.

What surprised you the most about HBS?

How impactful students at HBS have been post-graduation. I love reading about what my classmates have been up to!