Sam Altman, co-founder of OpenAI and a pivotal figure in the field, was dismissed from his role at OpenAI, the organization behind ChatGPT. In a swift turn of events, Microsoft, OpenAI's most significant investor, quickly onboarded him.
Adding to the intrigue, Altman was reinstated as OpenAI's CEO late Tuesday, overturning the decision made by the company's board the previous week. This unexpected reversal was fueled by a concerted effort from his supporters, including colleagues and investors.
Let's delve into the sequence of these remarkable events and explore the timeline that led to this extraordinary twist.
Why was Sam Altman fired?
The board of directors at OpenAI removed co-founder and long-time CEO, Altman, from his position on Friday. The board mentioned that Altman's termination came after a thorough review process, which concluded that he had not been consistently truthful in his communications with the board. This lack of candor had hindered the board's ability to carry out its responsibilities effectively.
Soon after being fired Friday, Altman posted on X, that he “loved” his time at OpenAI and that his tenure there had been “transformative” for him.
Two days after his resignation, Altman met with the OpenAI board to discuss the possibility of returning to the company, but faced opposition from investors and the broader tech community. Unfortunately, the talks broke down on Sunday. Microsoft, OpenAI's biggest investor, moved to fill the void, hiring Altman to lead its AI research. Microsoft also hired former OpenAI president Greg Brockman, who had resigned on Friday in solidarity with Altman.
What did this mean for Microsoft?
The future of Altman and Brockman at Microsoft was uncertain as negotiations continued to bring Altman back to OpenAI. In a post on X, Altman stated that his and Nadella's priority is to ensure the success of OpenAI.
While the return to OpenAI for Altman was still uncertain, analysts believed that Microsoft would benefit as the largest investor in OpenAI. Macquarie analysts stated in a note on Monday that Microsoft is well-positioned, whether Altman returns to OpenAI or if he builds a new AI business with the hundreds of OpenAI employees who expressed interest in joining Microsoft.
The solidarity of OpenAI employees
After Altman's firing and the departure of Brockman, OpenAI employees protested. About 700 employees of the roughly 770-person company signed a letter requesting the current board to resign and Altman to be reinstated. If their demands were not met, the employees threatened to quit and join Altman at Microsoft. Ilya Sutskever, a current OpenAI board member and executive, expressed regret over his involvement in the board's actions and was among those who signed the letter.
The new interim OpenAI CEO
Emmett Shear, the co-founder of the video streaming company Twitch, posted Monday that he had been named interim CEO of OpenAI. He replaced the company’s CTO Mira Murati, who was briefly named interim CEO when Altman was fired.
Shear called the offer a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and wrote on X that he has a three-point plan for his first 30 days in the role. The first step, he said, is to “hire an independent investigator to dig into the entire process leading up to this point and generate a full report.”
The turn of events
Late on Tuesday, OpenAI announced that Sam Altman has been reinstated as the company's CEO. This comes after a successful campaign by his allies, employees, and investors to reverse his ouster by the company's board last week. The board of directors will also be overhauled, with several members who had opposed Mr. Altman being removed. Adam D'Angelo, the CEO of Quora, will be the only member to remain on the board.
“We have reached an agreement in principle for Sam to return to OpenAI as CEO with a new initial board of Bret Taylor (Chair), Larry Summers, and Adam D’Angelo,”
OpenAI said in a post to X.
“We are collaborating to figure out the details. Thank you so much for your patience through this.”
OpenAI has been through a tumultuous five days which culminated in the return of Mr. Altman and Greg Brockman, the company's president, and a restructuring of the board.
The company has announced that its board of directors will be revamped and will include some notable names such as Mr. Taylor, an early Facebook officer, and former co-chief executive of Salesforce; Mr. Summers, the former Treasury Secretary; and Mr. D'Angelo.
OpenAI has also stated that Mr. Taylor will be the board Chairman. Mr. D'Angelo was leading the negotiations for the board changes, according to two sources close to the board. One of the sources also mentioned that the general framework for the changes was already in place by late Sunday.
The process of determining the composition of the board caused a delay in the decision to bring Mr. Altman back to OpenAI. The organization referred to their current board as the "initial" board, indicating that it may expand in the future.
On Tuesday, a person close to the board's deliberations stated that Tasha McCauley, Helen Toner and Mr. D'Angelo pushed for specific concessions from Mr. Altman, which included an independent investigation into his leadership of OpenAI.
According to a source familiar with the situation, Ms. Toner and Ms. McCauley ultimately agreed to resign from the board in order to give it a fresh start. They were concerned that if all members stepped down, it might imply that the board had made a mistake, even though they believed they had acted correctly.
Microsoft, which is OpenAI's largest investor, has expressed its support for the changes made in the OpenAI board. Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, stated that he was encouraged by the changes made in the OpenAI board. He called it the first essential step towards achieving more stable, well-informed, and effective governance. Nadella also suggested that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman should return to OpenAI.