Inner turmoil at OpenAI led to a hell of a weekend, ending with almost the entire board stepping down after a rash decision to oust their CEO.
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The hottest company in tech just went through a hell of a week: OpenAI CEO Sam Altman went from being fired, replaced, and hired by Microsoft, to being reinstated in a span of five days. The board’s decision to abruptly fire the superstar CEO was not immediately clear, and what followed was untethered turmoil behind the company walls.
Here’s a timeline of the events that panned out leading to OpenAI’s reshuffling.
Around this time last year, OpenAI became the most talked about company in tech — thrust under the spotlight thanks to its release of ChatGPT. This made CEO Sam Altman an overnight sensation, and inadvertently the face of the AI boom.
In another post later that evening, Brockman said that he and Altman were notified by OpenAI co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever of their removal over Google Meet. “Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today,” Brockman wrote.
Sam Altman wasn’t fired for “malfeasance” or any “financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices,” according to an internal memo Axios saw that was sent by COO Brad Lightcap.
We can say definitively that the board’s decision was not made in response to malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices. This was a breakdown in communication between Sam and the board.
A statement released by Microsoft said: “We have a long-term partnership with OpenAI and Microsoft remains committed to Mira and their team as we bring this next era of AI to our customers.”
Tensions between Altman and the company’s board had been continuing for more than a year, primarily due to the company’s unique structure.
The board’s decision came as a result of withholding principle ahead of profits, as expressed in its charter: “Our primary fiduciary duty is to humanity.”
Just a day after being ousted, ex-CEO’s supporters and OpenAI investors pressured the board into bringing Altman back — with Microsoft leading the charge, multiple sources reported.
Altman had one big condition for his return in that the existing board had to step down — setting a 5 p.m. deadline for the board to submit to the demands. The discussions reached an impasse as the Sunday deadline was missed.
After a weekend of failed negotiations, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella later announced the hiring of both Altman and Brockman to lead Microsoft’s new advanced AI research team — with Altman serving as CEO.
We’re extremely excited to share the news that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team. We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success.
Just an hour later, OpenAI announced its new, new CEO: Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear.
I have a three point plan for the next 30 days:
– Hire an independent investigator to dig into the entire process leading up to this point and generate a full report.
– Continue to speak to as many of our employees, partners, investors, and customers as possible, take good notes, and share the key takeaways.
– Reform the management and leadership team in light of recent departures into an effective force to drive results for our customers.
Outside OpenAI’s calculations was a revolt where about 95 percent of the company’s employees signed an open letter — threatening mass resignations unless the current board resigned, reinstated Sam Altman as CEO, and appointed two new independent directors like Bret Taylor and Will Hurd.
Experts said that much of the resigning staff could join Altman and a team of renegade ex-OpenAI team at Microsoft — something Microsoft is optimistic about.
With the board yet to respond to the staff petition, news of Altman’s possible return to OpenAI surfaced again.
OpenAI confirmed that it had reached an “agreement in principle” for Sam Altman to return as CEO near 10 p.m. Tuesday, with a new initial board chaired by former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor.
Altman’s response: “i love openai, and everything i’ve done over the past few days has been in service of keeping this team and its mission together…. with the new board and w satya’s support, i’m looking forward to returning to openai, and building on our strong partnership with msft.”
What’s next: The weeklong drama could make the European Union and other governments make faster moves toward regulating the technology — something that aligned with the first board’s vision.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article previously stated that Alman and Brockman are part of the new OpenAI board. We have since corrected the error. We regret the inconvenience.