Safra Catz has long been Oracle's secret weapon, and analysts say that it's her time to shine as sole CEO: 'This will test her, but she will prevail'
- With Oracle CEO Mark Hurd out on medical leave, Safra Catz is now the sole CEO of Oracle.
- Catz, who joined Oracle in 1999, has long been one of Oracle's top executives, even though she is known for keeping a low profile.
- Analysts describe her as an experienced and brilliant business operator and strategist, who has played a critical role in Oracle's growth.
- But she has also been controversial, known as a Trump ally who joined his transition team and was once reportedly considered for a top post in Washington DC.
- Catz's biggest challenge is leading Oracle as the company struggles to establish a bigger presence in the cloud.
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Oracle CEO Safra Catz, one of the most powerful women in tech, has managed to develop a sense of humor in her time in the industry.
During the 2004 trial over the Justice Department's bid to stop Oracle's hostile takeover of PeopleSoft, Catz - then the database giant's co-president - testified about an internal Oracle sales program aimed at the company's German arch-rival, SAP. It was code-named "Kill SAP."
"It's a little military," Catz quipped in her testimony, "but our guys get excited."
This week, Catz assumed a more prominent role at Oracle after Mark Hurd, her co-CEO, announced that he was going on medical leave. It's potentially a big change for Catz, a 20-year Oracle veteran, who has long been shared the spotlight with - and at times even overshadowed by - the men who lead the Silicon Valley behemoth.
Some analysts believe it is Safra Catz's time to shine.
"Safra gets a lot of credit for keeping the ship on an even keel year after year," analyst Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies Associates told Business Insider.
"Like many women, she is undersung. She has mostly left the self-promotion to Larry, taking instead an operating role," Kay said, referring to Larry Ellison, the often-bombastic founder and chief technology officer of Oracle. "She'd blossom as sole CEO."
Catz, who joined Oracle in 1999, has for years also shared key Oracle posts with others. For a time, she shared the title of co-president with Chuck Philips, which made them then-Oracle CEO Ellison's top lieutenants - prompting speculation that they were in competition for the top job.
Phillips left the company in 2010, which was the same year that Mark Hurd, who had just resigned as CEO of Hewlett Packard after allegations of sexual harassment, joined Oracle. Hurd then became Catz's co-president. They were promoted to co-CEO when Ellison, who is now executive chairman, gave up the top post in 2014.
This also triggered speculation that Catz and Hurd were competitors, even though analysts say they've worked well as a team, with Ellison serving as a senior adviser role. Hurd's leave has heightened speculation that she is now the top boss at Oracle, now valued at some $180 billion.
'She's brilliant, tough as nails'
"She's brilliant, operationally expert, tough as nails," Marty Wolfe, president of Martinwolf M&A Advisors told Business Insider. Catz and Hurd worked well as a team, he said. "They co-managed so well for so long. This will test her, but she will prevail."
Wedbush analyst Danie Ives said Catz is "one of the legendary leaders in the technology sectors for the last 20 years."
"She's also been viewed as an heir apparent and someone who has the unique pulse on the landscape of cloud computing in the tech sector," he told Business Insider.
Ray Wang of Constellation Research described Catz as "an extraordinary operator" who has not drawn as much attention as Oracle's other high-profile - and sometimes controversial - top execs.
"Many folks underestimate her because she doesn't want to take the limelight, but she has a silent power," he told Business Insider. "I think she's not sought the limelight but internal folks will always tell you she's the one running the company in the background. Her biggest weakness is a strength in today's climate. She's not seeking the limelight. She's focused on getting the job done."
Catz herself has expressed her aversion to publicity, telling Forbes in a 2006 interview: "I don't have the need to get on television or get onstage."
Catz did become controversial when she emerged as a staunch supporter of President Trump, and even joined his Trump transition team in 2016, which prompted a senior Oracle exec to quit.
"I plan to tell the president-elect that we are with him and will help in any way we can," she told reporters before accepting the position. "If he can reform the tax code, reduce regulation and negotiate better trade deals, the US technology industry will be stronger and more competitive than ever."
In 2018, Catz was reportedly one of the candidates for national security adviser, replacing H.R. McMaster, who during a private dinner with Catz had reportedly told her that Trump was a "dope" and an "idiot."
An uphill battle in the cloud
In the technology world, she developed a reputation as an aggressive business operator strategist. Even Ellison was aware of her reputation for toughness. When faced with a tough negotiation, he once reportedly said: "Send in the Israeli!" He meant Catz, who was born in Israel and grew up in Boston.
Catz is widely known to have played a critical role in Oracle's successful hostile takeover bid for PeopleSoft, which she pitched to Ellison after the software company acquired J.D. Edwards, according to emails from the trial that followed.
"Now would be the time to launch on PSFT," Catz wrote Ellison.
"Just what I was thinking," Ellison wrote back.
What followed was a bitter takeover battle that Ellison and company eventually won -- and which transformed Oracle into an even more dominant player in the enterprise software market.
But Oracle notched that victory at a time when cloud computing was emerging as the major trend in enterprise tech -- and one where Oracle has been outpaced by stronger rivals led by Amazon, Microsoft and Google.
"Oracle is far behind the leaders in the cloud," Wolf said. "They need to execute flawlessly to even stay in the hunt."
With Hurd out on leave, the spotlight is now solely on Catz as Oracle embarks on one of the biggest battles in its history.
"The challenge is Oracle continues to have headwinds in the cloud," Ives of Wedbush said. "It continues to be a battle for market share and I think it's a bit of an uphill battle for Oracle. They have a massive install base, but this is a company going through a transition."
Referring to Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, he added: "With Kurian at GCP, Nadella in Redmond, Bezos at AWS [Amazon Web Services], Catz has to lead the charge. It's a pivotal time for Oracle in this cloud arms race."
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