Courtesy of Lily Hakim '07

Lily Hakim '07 won the 2023 CALS Young Alumni Achievement Award for submitting the budget for the clinical trial of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.

November 29, 2023

Lily Hakim ’07 Receives 2023 CALS Young Alumni Achievement Award

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Lily Hakim ’07, the Director of Executive Operations in the Office of the CEO at Pfizer, was one of two alumni who received the 2023 College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Young Alumni Achievement Award. She was distinguished for her achievement in submitting the budget for Pfizer’s COVID-19 clinical trial in 2020, which the federal Food and Drug Administration approved on August 23, 2021. 

Hakim graduated from the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management in CALS, a factor she sees as having had a positive effect on her career as a certified public accountant. 

“I didn’t want to just do accounting, and Cornell did not have an accounting major either,” Hakim said. “I love my background in AEM. It’s made me become more well-rounded and allowed me to see things in a different way.”

After graduating from Cornell in 2007, Hakim began working at the accounting firm Ernst and Young in New York City. She also pursued a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Virginia. At Ernst and Young, Hakim worked with a myriad of private and non-profit companies.

In 2010, Hakim began working as a consulting accountant to the Chief Financial Officer of Electric Boat in New London, Connecticut, a subsidiary of defense contractor General Dynamics that makes submarines for the United States Navy. In her role, Hakim traveled with the CFO and worked with government auditors to issue corporate position papers in accounting.

“[It was a] very different environment for me, because I didn’t know people who had served in the military, and [Electric Boat] was very much that type of community,” Hakim said. “It was very eye-opening and satisfying to see that part of America in terms of culture and work ethic.”

Hakim returned to New York in 2015 and shifted from working for the defense industry to pharmaceuticals. She began a position as the senior manager of finance in vaccines research and development at Pfizer, where she worked closely with Kathrin Jansen, Pfizer’s head of vaccine research and development.

Working in a pharmaceutical setting was another adjustment for Hakim, as she applied her accounting background to a setting that involved estimating costs and creating a budget for clinical trials, recruitment and development. 

“Finance isn’t just about the dollars. You have to understand and forecast appropriately for when things are going to happen,” Hakim said. “That’s how a company plans. You don’t want to overestimate [and take] away from an opportunity somewhere else, and you don’t want to underestimate [and] be over budget.”

Hakim was the finance lead at the time of the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 and oversaw the largest clinical trial budget in Pfizer’s history. 

“[Throughout the process] we still followed the same protocols, and I held fast to that because good procedures and good processes help you through tough times,” Hakim said. “And I feel very privileged to have been part of an incredible team of people.”

Hakim entered her current role in 2020. She works on coordinating the CEO’s engagements with public speaking events, which involves communicating with internal teams within Pfizer and third-party event organizers. 

“I work with organizers to understand what they would like and to make sure that these events are as engaging and as valuable as possible for everyone involved,” Hakim said.

Hakim also provides support for the board of directors’ meetings for Pfizer, a role that she had not previously done before. 

“[In working] with our corporate governance colleagues, [I] see what goes into the management of a corporation, what the rules are, what the structure is, what the deliverables are,” Hakim said. “It’s fascinating, and a really good educational opportunity for me at this point in my career.” 

Hakim also acknowledged the existence of barriers to adapting to the cultures of different workplaces but highlighted the importance of overcoming them. She also credits her Cornell education as having helped her navigate her roles in such diverse industries. 

“[In both] defense and pharmaceuticals, I have had to work with individuals of scientific backgrounds and learn how to communicate with them. That’s been a really important part of something that Cornell taught me how to do.” Hakim said. “I have had to learn what matters to a scientist [and] understand what motivates people in any company I’ve worked at.”

Hakim returned to Cornell in September to attend CALS’s awards ceremony, where she also spoke as a guest at an Applied Economics and Management 2200: Business Management and Organization lecture, taught by Prof. Pedro Pérez, applied economics and management. This experience gave Hakim the opportunity to reflect on her own time as a student.

“It was an incredible experience to come back. What was so moving to me were the questions from the students which weren’t necessarily focused on my career path, [but] how I adjusted to life on campus,” she said. “I couldn’t believe how similar their questions were to the same things that I felt when I was a freshman.”

During her time as a student at Cornell, Hakim was closely involved with Cornell Hillel and founded the Sephardi and Mizrahi Association. A violinist throughout high school, she also performed in the Cornell Chamber Orchestra

Upon hearing that she had won the Young Alumni Achievement award, Hakim said she felt grateful to have been honored among other high-achieving agriculture college alumni. 

“I am incredibly humbled to be thought of as part of that group, and it certainly pushes me to try and work harder and give back,” Hakim said. “It’s incredible the way that CALS gives back to its students and keeps alumni engaged.”

Eric Lechpammer ’27 is a Sun staff writer and can be reached at [email protected].

Correction, Dec. 9, 12:32 p.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Lily Hakim ’07 oversaw the third-largest clinical trial budget in Pfizer’s history, when it was in fact the largest. The Sun regrets this error.