Diana Ostroff is a voice for business at the Capitol

In August 16, 2019
Diana Ostroff, managing director at Ostroff Associates, represents clients that range from accounting firms to film and television production studios.
Photo: DONNA ABBOTT-VLAHOS
By Liz Young
Albany Business Review

 

Diana Ostroff has never taken a political science course.

The managing director at Ostroff Associates, the seventh-largest lobbying firm in the state, always thought she’d be working at a corporation. Now, more than 25 years later, she’s built a wide-ranging client list that includes Walmart, FedEx and the state association representing tombstone manufacturers.

Her firm earned $6.38 million in lobbying compensation last year.

Tell me about your career and how you got to where you are. I was a business major at Siena College. One of my neighbors worked for The Business Council and they were looking for part-time work. I started working there, and when I graduated, they offered me a full-time job. They said, “We think you’d make a great lobbyist.” And here I am now 26, 27 years later.

What do you like about being a lobbyist? I’m able to work in so many different industries and learn about so many different things. Your day is never boring. You learn so much. I’ve worked and represented businesses throughout my career, and that’s what I always wanted to do. Like today, I will probably work on seven different issues, and jump around from one client to the next client.

What are some of those issues? Right now, I’m working with a bunch of tech companies. Technology is changing, and it’s changing faster than the regulators can really regulate it. And we have antiquated laws that don’t match up to today’s society. So part of my job with those type of companies is looking to see what kind of laws need updating, and then we’ll try to change the laws in a responsible way.

A lot of companies use independent contractors. What we would like is to have a clear definition and statutes so that when companies want to come to New York and operate, they know what the rules are in the state.

These companies are dealing with patchworks of laws throughout the country. If you don’t have a lobbyist, or you don’t have someone in government affairs in-house, it’s very difficult to know how to be in compliance in all these different states.

Who else do you represent? I represent the Big Four accounting firms. I represent FedEx, Walmart, Grubhub, Match.com, Tinder. And then we have our oldest client I work on, the New York State Monument Builders Association, which is tombstones. Everyone is represented in Albany by somebody.

What are some of your biggest wins that you’ve had as a lobbyist? Property tax cap was huge. And then the film tax credit. We represent Steiner Studios [in Brooklyn, where “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” has filmed]. So that’s a $420 million tax credit for the film and TV industry.

Why do you choose to work in New York state? New York is a complex state. This year we had a huge change in state government. The Democrats took over the Senate. We had 17 new senators, 15 of whom were Democrats.

That was a challenge. You have to educate them on all the issues. There is no way a legislator can know everything about every issue. What we do is bring the perspective from our clients. Then they can choose to do whatever they want with that information.

What’s different about lobbying now compared with when you first started? The lobbying world has changed quite a bit. I started in the ‘90s, and there were very few females. I would say I could count them on one hand. Now you go to the Capitol and it’s filled with women lobbyists.

This is not an easy job. The perception of a lobbyist back in the day was, you know who you know, and if you know that person, you’re going to get what you want. And it’s not like that. You really have to know your issue.

Often the perception is that some of the biggest wins for the business community each year are more about preventing new regulations from being handed down, rather than securing tax cuts or significant regulatory change. Do you think that perception is accurate or not? This year was really a social issue year. There were really amazing pieces of legislation that were passed this year that while they might not impact businesses, I have to say that all of our businesses were very happy that they were passed. I agree that it’s really hard. Right now everyone’s looking at the social issues and not really looking at some of the business issues. We’re losing a lot of companies to other states and we need to really focus on how we’re keeping these here.

How much is Ostroff Associates growing? We now have 20 people on staff. We almost doubled our office in the last couple of years.

Do you anticipate growing again this year? Yes. And what I love about our firm, how we’re growing, we have more women than men now.

Your husband founded Ostroff Associates. How has it grown since the time when you joined? When I came on board eight, nine years ago, I started bringing in more corporate clients. FedEx was my first client I brought in and then Walmart. The bigger companies look to see who the other companies use because if you can handle their issues, they know you’re going to be able to handle theirs.

We’ve just been working hard, and we have a great team here. It shows. That’s why we’re growing.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


Diana Ostroff

Title: Managing director

Company: Ostroff Associates Inc.

Age: 46

Family: Husband, Rick; sons, Ethan, 16, and Miles, 13; two stepsons, Jake, 27, and Jon, 22

Education: Bachelor’s in marketing management from Siena College, 1994; MBA from The College of Saint Rose

Born: Loudonville

Resides: Loudonville

On the resume: The Business Council of New York State Inc.; Life Insurance Council of New York State; National Federation of Independent Business; Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce