The whirlwind weekend keeps on giving as the Sam Altman OpenAI saga continues to keep everyone guessing about the future of the company. It all started on a Friday just like any other, when Sam Altman, CEO and co-founder of OpenAI, was fired by the board members and a blog post announced that the CEO was to be replaced as he was not “consistently candid” with his communications with the board. The news was met with great pushback, not only from vocal employees but OpenAI shareholders who had made significant investments in Sam Altman’s plans for the company. With a $86 billion valuation on the line, the company stakeholders were all set to see their money grow but that was put at risk with the board’s decision, with the additional threat of losses due to the disruption.
Reports of a possible return had everyone holding their breath, but by Monday, it was clear that Sam Altman would be CEO no longer. Now, just days later, we hear that Altman will be returning as OpenAI’s CEO. Here’s a timeline of everything you need to know about the story so far.
Sam Altman and OpenAI—The Separation
Late last week, OpenAI board members came to the conclusion that while they appreciated the work done by Sam Altman as CEO, they no longer felt he was a good fit for the company. Arranging a Google Meet call, the board members conveyed the news to Altman and made an announcement to the public via a blog post posted to their website. Chief Technology Officer Mira Murati was complimented profusely as she was announced to be the interim CEO. How do we know this? From a tweet by Greg Brockman, President, co-founder, and OpenAI board member who was asked to step down from his role but remain with the company.
Instead of following the board’s decision, Brockman quit OpenAI in protest of the decision and a few senior researchers followed suit. It was clear that things were not going to work in favor of the OpenAI board members, who then tried to organize a meeting for the reinstatement of Sam Altman as CEO. This seemed to be performatory however, as the board procrastinated the meeting and showed a lack of good faith in their commitment to the renegotiations. When the discussion finally took place on Sunday, news broke that Sam Altman and OpenAI would have to cut ties as former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear took over as interim CEO.
Sam Altman and Microsoft—A New Beginning?
Momentarily, it seemed that would be the end of the story as Altman moved on to other things. Over the weekend, there were reports that he would start his own AI initiative and many employees had voiced their desire to leave with him. According to a post by Evan Morikawa, an OpenAI engineering manager, 743 employees—more than 95 percent of the company—have signed a letter to have the board removed and replaced with a possible reinstatement of favored ex-CEO Sam Altman. Of the many who have signed on, the most surprising appeared to be OpenAI board member and chief scientist, Ilya Sutskever, who had been seen as one of the directors most set against Altman.
Outlook Business reported that OpenAI shareholders were considering lawsuits against the tech giant for potential losses, however, there are no confirmations on the matter so far. According to Bloomberg, OpenAI shareholders such as Thrive Capital, Khosla Ventures, and Tiger Global Management were hoping for an Altman reinstatement as well.
In the brief hours that passed since his dismissal from OpenAI, Sam Altman, with his legacy of success, reportedly found work at Microsoft. Among the OpenAI shareholders, with a 49 percent stake in the company, Microsoft has always been vocal about its support for OpenAI, using its tools and technology for its own AI iterations on the market today. Expressing their disappointment with how the situation was handled earlier, with CEO Satya Nadella talking to journalist Kara Swisher about how they were not consulted by the board before such a major decision was made. Still, holding on to a hope for continued collaboration with OpenAI, the Microsoft CEO took to Twitter/X to make the official announcement of Altman’s hiring.
Brand New OpenAI Board Members—The Comeback
Sam Altman and Greg Brockman were all set to lead a “new advanced AI research team” along with several colleagues who followed their leader out of the company and this would have been just as good of an end to the story as any other. But the updates didn’t stop here. Only hours ago, OpenAI confirmed a Sam Altman-OpenAI reunion with a new board in tow to rebuild the top management at the company. With Altman as CEO, supported by three new board members and Brockman in tow, it seems things will be returning to normal in the next few days. Nadella seems to have been in on the discussions as his update to the story came almost immediately following the report.
We have reached an agreement in principle for Sam Altman to return to OpenAI as CEO with a new initial board of Bret Taylor (Chair), Larry Summers, and Adam D’Angelo.
We are collaborating to figure out the details. Thank you so much for your patience through this.
— OpenAI (@OpenAI) November 22, 2023
We are encouraged by the changes to the OpenAI board. We believe this is a first essential step on a path to more stable, well-informed, and effective governance. Sam, Greg, and I have talked and agreed they have a key role to play along with the OAI leadership team in ensuring… https://t.co/djO6Fuz6t9
— Satya Nadella (@satyanadella) November 22, 2023
The Microsoft CEO expressed his satisfaction with the team’s decision and from the tweet, it seems likely that the Sam Altman OpenAI role reprisal will not mark the end of the collaboration with the Microsoft research team. It is still unclear how these matters will pan out and whether OpenAI will be able to turn everyone’s eyes back to its technology instead of the office drama that has plagued us this weekend. The AI giant was set to receive a $86 billion valuation in a deal with Thrive Capital but for a time, it appeared this would be greatly damaged by management changes. In the next month, we should be able to see how things stand with the company and the various OpenAI shareholders and investors.