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Taking care of the business side of medical research

July 2011

What is an accounting major doing in medical research? Taking care of the bottom line, of course.

Lisa A. Foti graduated from the School of Management in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a minor in finance. For the past eight years, she has served as chief financial officer for the Hauptman Woodward Medical Research Institute (HWI) in Buffalo, an independent, nonprofit institution that conducts cutting-edge biomedical research.

While still a UB student, Foti began her career with an internship at the former “Big Eight” accounting firm of Arthur Young, which resulted in a job offer upon graduation. The firm later merged with Ernst and Whiney and is now known as Ernst & Young LLP.

“I stayed at the firm for more than 11 years and worked in both tax and audit advisory service groups,” Foti says. “I worked in the Buffalo and New York City offices of E&Y and was promoted to the level of senior manager before I left. I traveled quite extensively for E&Y as I worked with many diverse clients and industries.”

Foti left Ernst & Young in 2000 and joined Freed Maxick & Battaglia, a regional accounting services firm, which gave her the opportunity to consult a variety of smaller to mid-sized clients, including many health care and nonprofit organizations. Her work focused on cash flow analyses and forecasting, as well as specialized financing arrangements.

“This led to an opportunity with HWI, where I worked on a project to assist with the financing and cash flow analysis of the institute’s new $24 million research facility, located in the heart of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus,” Foti says.

“The project took a little more than two years to complete, and resulted in an offer to become chief financial officer of the institute,” she says. Her role has since expanded to include grants administration and human resources. In addition, the HWI operating budget has doubled during her tenure, going from $5 million to $10 million in total revenues.

Foti does not take any credit for this, however. “The increase is due to our wonderful scientists, whose tireless efforts secure federal grant dollars and fund critical research initiatives. This in turn translates into more jobs and ultimately dollars for Western New York,” she says.

Her job at HWI has also reconnected her to some UB roots. In 2001, HWI and the university reached a collaborative agreement that resulted in the formation of the UB Department of Structural Biology, a graduate program of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences housed at HWI, using HWI facilities and led by HWI scientists.

“I feel like I’ve really been able to make a difference to such an important entity by providing the business perspective that is essential today to running any organization,” she says. “I’ve used my expertise in finance to contribute to the grant compliance process and to manage the overall portfolio, maximizing revenue streams and controlling costs.”

In her spare time, Foti enjoys being with her family. “My husband, Mike Malkowski, is a researcher at HWI and between us we have five children ranging in age from 7 to 17,” she says. “Most weekends are spent running back and forth to baseball games, gymnastics, dance and karate classes, and, if I’m lucky, sneaking in a workout.” 

Written by Cathy Wilde