The tech sector was taken aback by the sudden announcement of OpenAI Sam Altman’s dismissal on November 17. This news was unexpected, considering that just a few days earlier, Altman had been on stage at the inaugural OpenAI developer day, unveiling new features for ChatGPT, the company’s AI chatbot, and discussing other AI projects. In the midst of the ensuing confusion, reports emerged suggesting that Altman’s firing was a result of disagreements with his board, particularly with OpenAI co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever.
At the same time, Greg Brockman was asked to resign from his position as chairman of the board. After this, Brockman also resigned from the company from his role as CEO. Soon after, however, there were reports claiming that OpenAI investors were not at all happy with Altman’s departure and want the former CEO back. However, the discussion appears to have reached an impasse over makeup and the government’s role, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
“OpenAI executives seeking to reinstate Altman include interim CEO Mira Murati, chief strategy officer Jason Kwon and chief operating officer Brad Lightcap, according to a person familiar with the discussions,” the report said.
Altman, who was fired on Friday, is ready to return but wants to see changes to the administration — including removing current board members, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. After facing intense pressure over their decision to fire Altman Friday, the board agreed in principle to step down, but has so far refused to formally do so.
As of noon Sunday, the board had not resolved its concerns about who might replace them and was tabling candidates, one of the people said.
Microsoft Corp. CEO Satya Nadella is at the center of high-stakes negotiations between investors, employees and the board. Nadella has led talks between various factions, some said. A breakthrough would pave the way for Altman’s quick return, possibly as early as Sunday.
Bret Taylor, the former CEO of Salesforce Inc., will be on the new board, multiple people said. Another potential addition is an executive from Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft, OpenAI’s largest shareholder — but Microsoft has not decided whether it wants representation on the board, some said.
The company’s staff has expressed their support for Altman. In a memo to staff on Saturday, Lightcap said Altman’s ouster “surprised all of us” and that “we have had several conversations with the board to try to better understand the reasons and process behind their decision.”
On Saturday night, Altman wrote, “I love the openai team so much” on X, formerly Twitter. In response, dozens of OpenAI employees — including Murati, Kwon, and Lightcap — sent messages of support, retweeting Altman’s message and adding a heart emoji.
The chaos began on Friday when OpenAI executives led by Ilja Sutskever fired Altman, saying “he was not consistently honest in his communications with the government.” In a memo to staff, Lightcap said the decision to fire the CEO “was not made in response to misconduct” or the company’s financial or safety practices.
One long-term issue that has divided the company was Altman’s drive to turn OpenAI, which started as a nonprofit, into a successful business — and how quickly he wanted the company to launch products and acquire customers. It ran into board members’ concerns about the safety of AI tools that can generate text, images and even computer code with little prompting.
Altman is keeping his options open, according to people familiar with his thinking, and is interested in returning to OpenAI, starting a new company, or both.
(Courtesy of Bloomberg)