Profile: Arianna Ozzanto
Arianna Ozzanto ’99 is chief financial officer of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Photo by Mike Glier.

Profile: Arianna Ozzanto

Originally a business major, this accomplished alumna realized economics was a better fit. Now she’s chief financial officer for the union representing a large segment of entertainment industry professionals.
ByMichelle Boston

For Arianna Ozzanto, a college education was never an option — it was a certainty.

Her baby boomer mother and her father, a first-generation Italian American who grew up in Chicago during the Great Depression, instilled in Ozzanto the idea that she could be or do anything, as long as she took the right steps.

“My parents were great proponents of financial responsibility and independence,” she said, and in their minds, education was a sound means to achieve that. “College was never a choice for me. It was inevitable.”

Now Ozzanto, who earned her bachelor’s degree in economics from USC Dornsife in 1999, is making her own financial decisions — and on a much larger scale. She is chief financial officer of the Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), the union representing actors, broadcast journalists, recording artists, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media professionals.

The Natural

Ozzanto followed her interest in finance, starting as a business major at USC. But, she found the focus of the program wasn’t quite right for her.

“I initially thought that I’d be interested in marketing and then figured out that it wasn’t for me. The creative juices weren’t flowing as much as I thought that they would need to in order to make a career out of that,” she said.

So, the second semester of her junior year she made a decision to alter her path and switched her major to economics. She was inspired by a class she had taken on business economics — the study of issues faced by corporations such as business organization, management and strategy.

“I was always kind of terrified of economics because I was in Advanced Placement economics in high school and I didn’t really have a grasp of it,” Ozzanto said. But, her college class struck a chord with her.

“I fell in love with economics. It came easily to me. I had an understanding of it and I couldn’t really tell you why. It felt like it was this natural fit,” she said.

The change so close to her senior year meant she had to make up for lost time. So, while her peers were taking less intensive electives, Ozzanto was taking calculus and advanced statistics. “But, that was what I needed to get me through in four years,” she said.

Numbers game

Throughout her time at USC, Ozzanto worked in a campus office that administered research grants. It helped her get a sense of what working in accounting and finance was all about. That experience coupled with her economics degree served her well, she said.

Out of college, Ozzanto worked her way up through a few positions as a financial analyst, including stints at 20th Century Fox and at an insurance company. Then a budget analyst position opened up at the Screen Actors Guild.

“At the time, those jobs were kind of a luxury to have. A lot of companies weren’t really hiring people who just focused on the budget,” Ozzanto said.

“I fell in love with economics … I couldn’t really tell you why. It felt like it was this natural fit.”

It was a perfect fit. Ozzanto steadily made her way up through positions at the company, expanding her role from finance and accounting to real estate, residual processing and union membership, among other responsibilities. In 2009, she took on the position of chief financial officer, and was in the role when the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists voted to become one organization in 2012.

The merger gave Ozzanto the opportunity to work through the process of bringing the unions together, integrating policies and procedures as well as the cultures of the two organizations, which she said was a rewarding and challenging experience. After 14 years, she still finds her position to be satisfying.

“I really like the fact that I’m a piece of the pie that helps contribute to the betterment of people. We’re fighting for performers, broadcasters, for better wages and working conditions. Although I don’t get directly involved with the negotiation process, part of what I do helps the organization move that forward,” she said.

The next generation

Ozzanto has also been active back on campus. She is a member of the Economics Leadership Council at USC Dornsife, which supports the mission of the Department of Economics. Made up of economics professionals, the group provides mentorship and internship opportunities for majors and helps to raise the profile of the department — already known for its high quality of students and faculty expertise — in the business community.

She is also helping to launch a new Women in Economics group to offer support for undergraduate and graduate women majoring in economics at USC Dornsife. As a woman in the financial world, Ozzanto has seen firsthand how the landscape is dominated by men, though she said she’s never let that get in her way. However, she wants to support the next generation of women interested in entering the field.

“We have some really great women involved in the group,” she said. “We’re thinking back to when we were students — what we would have benefited from.”

She has been delighted to see a large turnout of young women at the economics department events she has attended on campus recently, and she is happy to offer her advice to them, or to anyone starting out in a new industry.

Find something you like, she said. That will carry you through. There’s nothing worse than having to go to a job, day after day after day, that you don’t like, or doing something that you’re not completely satisfied with, she added.

“You’re going be working for 40 years, at least, and you should like it,” she said. “If you find something you like, everything else will fall into place. I’m living proof of that.”

Read more stories from USC Dornsife Magazine’s Spring-Summer 2018 issue >>