Safra Catz has been an executive at software giant Oracle for 20 years. Safra Catz has been an executive at software giant Oracle for 20 years. Safra Catz has been an executive at software giant Oracle for 20 years. (Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

6 life lessons from one of Fortune Magazine's most powerful women in business

The Israel-born Safra Catz has worked her way from a small town to being corporate America's highest paid female CEO.

Safra Catz has come a long way from her hometown in Israel, just south of Tel Aviv. The 57-year-old was just named to Fortune Magazine's list of the Most Powerful Women in Business. She's the Co-CEO of Silicon Valley software giant Oracle and sits on the board of The Walt Disney Company. She's the highest paid female CEO of any U.S. company.

Catz is a graduate of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and was recently invited back to give the commencement address at graduation. Here are six pieces of advice she gave the students:

Color outside the lines

"You've got to do something different. Not only should you think out of the box, you need to dispose of that box altogether. Think about things as differently as possible. Understand that because you are going against conventional wisdom, you should expect to be criticized by those with a vested interest in conventional wisdom, and you should just take it as noise. Don't let it change your mind. Understand that you are going to be called an idiot moments before you are called a genius."

If it doesn't make sense, it doesn't make sense

"Just because something is said with authority doesn't mean it makes sense. Don't just sit by and not question things that don't make sense. Don't just sit by at a meeting and passively watch a PowerPoint like a dog watching television. You've got to ask questions. Just because it's in a PowerPoint and all the colors match doesn't mean it really makes any sense. Ask questions."

Don't stand still

"You can't beat the competition by standing still and you can't be driven by caution all the time. It is extremely easy to be lulled into inaction ... Indecision really is your enemy. ... If you want to beat the competition and you want to advance your career personally, you need to make decisions and take actions. If you make decisions quickly, and you make a mistake, you may have a chance to fix it. [But] if you wait too long, the decision will make itself, and any change will be impossible."

Don't be trendy just to be trendy

"If you want to be fashionable, go shopping. Unless you are in the fashion business, businesses are not always fashionable. Execute your business strategy. Do not automatically change your strategy because some industry analyst has coined a new term that everyone is talking about. He may be wrong, and, two, it may not be right for you. Keep an eye on the market, understand your customers and look at all the new data. But also understand your own strengths and execute on the plan that leverages those."

If you don't ask, you don't get

"You have no idea how many business meetings I have sat through where a bunch of people on the same side of an issue convince themselves that on the other side, the answer is going to be 'no' without ever even asking. You have to ask if you want to get something. The only way that you can be certain that the answer is 'no' and getting a negative outcome is by not asking."

Be humble

"In my view, the difference between those that are successful over the long term and those that are not, are those that can look at their own success with a touch of humility. Most of us are just plain lucky."

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6 life lessons from one of Fortune Magazine's most powerful women in business
The Israel-born Safra Catz has worked her way from a small town to being corporate America's highest paid female CEO.