As an Israeli-American child growing up in Massachusetts, Safra Catz dreamed of working at an ice cream store. But fate had other plans.

In September, Catz, 52, was appointed co-CEO of Oracle, the software giant, after longtime CEO Larry Ellison announced he was stepping down. Catz oversees finance, operations and legal affairs, while fellow CEO Mark Hurd focuses on marketing, sales and strategy.

Placing two CEOs in the boardroom is an unusual approach for a major corporation, but there is little that is usual about Oracle — or the woman who now co-leads it. Founded by Ellison in 1977, Oracle became a pioneer in database software and survived the rise of PCs, the Internet and smartphones. Hired in 1999, Catz quickly rose through the ranks to become company president, CFO and Ellison’s unofficial consigliere.

Even before her promotion, Catz was considered one of America’s most powerful women, and last year she was America’s highest paid female executive, according to Forbes. Known for her grit and aversion to publicity, Catz has worked wonders for Oracle. Her efforts have included overseeing the company’s slew of aggressive — and successful — mergers and acquisitions. This past summer, Oracle announced a $5.3 billion buyout of MICROS Systems, a hospitality and retail technology company.

Catz, who spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee 2013 national summit, was born in Holon, Israel, to a physicist father and a mother who had survived the Holocaust. At the age of 6, Catz moved with her family to Massachusetts, but she won’t forget her birthplace: Her husband, Gal Tirosh, is Israeli.

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