Oracle’s Steady Hand, The Self-Made Safra Catz

As one of only 61 self-made women billionaires, Safra Catz is the co-CEO of software giant Oracle. She received $135 million in total realized pay in 2017 alone.

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Well-known for her desire to be unknown, Catz does what she can to avoid the media spotlight. She rarely grants interviews and when she does, she keeps her conversation limited to the corporate realm. In a rare interview with Forbes from 2006, Catz is circumspect about her personal life and ambitions. She does admit that she was reluctant to become CEO but remains sphynx-like about the details beyond that fact. Oracle’s co-founder Chairman Larry Elliston was able to expand somewhat on Catz’ aversion to the public eye, stating that “she’s seen what fame and fortune bring, and she’s not impressed.”

Safra Catz is Israeli-born but American raised. In a Bucharest press conference, she shared that her father was of Eastern European descent: “My father is Romanian and my goal has always been to invest in Romania.” She got an early start in Israel but moved to Brookline Massachusetts with her family at age six.

After graduating from Brookline High School, she went on to earn her undergraduate and law degrees from University of Pennsylvania. She started her career in the financial sector and worked her way up to managing director at the investment banking firm Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette before being recruited by Oracle in 1999.

Catz has been working quietly behind the software company’s scenes since she made the move to Silicon Valley. Having been personally invited to join Oracle’s team by Executive Chairman Larry Ellison, her rise within the company was meteoric. She became a member of the Board of Directors in 2001, President of Oracle Corporation in 2004 and Chief Financial Officer from 2005 to 2008 and again in 2011 to the present.

She has been instrumental to Oracle’s aggressive acquisition strategy. Over $60 billion has been spent on 130 buyouts over the last fifteen years, including two of the biggest hostile takeovers in the tech industry. Perhaps most notable was Oracle’s eighteen-month campaign to seize their corporate competitor PeopleSoft. Despite protests from Peoplesoft’s board of directors and the U.S. Department of Justice (due to antitrust concerns), Oracle won the day at more than double their original unsolicited bid. They closed the deal in 2005 and paid $11 billion for the privilege.

Despite her desire for a low personal profile, Catz’ is comfortable with voicing her political opinions. A long-time supporter of President Trump, she served as a member of his transition team in 2016 and was reportedly shortlisted for National Security Advisor in 2018. She has been an outspoken advocate of Trump’s administration but is not shy about lobbying him on behalf of her corporate home-base.

During a private dinner with the president in April 2018, it was reported that she criticized the bidding process for the Pentagon’s contract competition for cloud-computing services. Perhaps in an effort to take advantage of the long and well-documented feud that Trump has with Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos, she argued that the DOD’s single-source request for proposal favored the Seattle-based company.

In a Wharton School commencement address, Catz shared some of the insights that got her to the top spot in a world-leading tech company. The most important piece of advice she wanted to pass on was simple – don’t lie. “You can recover from being stupid, but you can never recover from being a liar,” she said. “Integrity is a perishable asset, and once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.”