If reports are to be believed, CEO of OpenAI Sam Altman was fired this Friday, a shocking move made by the board of directors during a very important time in the company’s valuation phase. In less than a day, there was news that the company was backtracking on its decision to fire Altman, just as employees began announcing their support for their ex-CEO. OpenAI’s Sam Altman has rapidly become the face of AI innovation this last year, and the news of his firing was an unexpected turn of events.
At the OpenAI DevDay that was held recently, Altman reported that the company’s ChatGPT platform had 100 million weekly active users and 92 percent of Fortune 500 companies building on their product. The company was all set to receive at least an $86 billion valuation, following a deal of share sales with Thrive Capital. The deal should have concluded next month but now it’s unclear how it will be affected by the news, marking a very strange time for the board to have moved to fire Altman.
Chief Technology Officer Mira Murati was initially appointed as the interim CEO but even that has changed over the weekend. Reports indicate that former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear will take on the interim CEO role. The reasons for why Sam Altman was removed from OpenAI are admittedly vague so far, but speculations abound.
Why Was Sam Altman Fired from OpenAI?
The company reported that the CEO of OpenAI Sam Altman was fired through a blog post that was published by the team. The blog post stated that the board of directors felt that the ex-CEO of OpenAI was “not consistently candid” with his communications with the board, limiting their ability to execute their own responsibilities. Thanking Altman for his contributions to the company these last few years, they stated that they “believe new leadership is necessary as we move forward.” Tech Journalist Kara Swisher hypothesized that the departure was a result of a “misalignment of the profit versus nonprofit adherents at the company.” This news remains unverified by internal sources.
Scoop: There are about to be a lot more major departures of top folks at @OpenAI tonight and I assume Altman will make a statement tonight. But, as I understand it, it was a “misalignment” of the profit versus nonprofit adherents at the company. The developer day was an issue. https://t.co/eIE4zctv4X
— Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) November 18, 2023
In addition to OpenAi ‘s Sam Altman leaving the company, the blog post mentioned that another co-founder, Greg Brockman, would also be stepping down from his role as chairman of the board, but would remain with the company. Brockman seemed to have very different plans, as he announced that he was quitting the firm entirely as news broke of Sam Altman’s firing. According to Brockman, the news of the firing was shared just as abruptly with the two exiting members as it was with the public.
A tweet by the ex-president of OpenAI stated that Altman had received a request for a Google Meet exchange the night before from board member and OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever. The CEO of OpenAI was fired by the board over the call and Greg Brockman was then asked to join a call and was informed of his own removal from the board, just as OpenAI published the blog post to inform the public about the changes. While a large number of X/Twitter users were more shocked by the use of Google Meet by a Microsoft-backed company, many others have expressed their disappointment at the treatment of both the President and CEO of OpenAI. Microsoft also appears to be in support of the ex-CEO, but there is likely little that the company can do to assent to Altman’s return.
Sam Altman Fired—But Is This the End?
For better or worse, however, the news doesn’t end there. Following the news that Sam Altman had been fired and Grek Brockman had quit, the entire company was sent into a tizzy. Hours later, many top staff members moved to resign and reports emerged of a new Altman-led company in the mix. Scrambling to stop staff from leaving, negotiations were reported to reinstate Altman with a simultaneous resignation by the board, but the board of directors skipped on appearing for negotiations by the deadline.
According to The Information, Altman returned to the office on Sunday morning, stating it would be his first and last time walking through the doors wearing a guest badge at the company. If things had gone well he would have returned as CEO but it appears he will not be returning to the company any longer, as Emmett Shear takes on the role of interim OpenAI CEO.
i love you all.
today was a weird experience in many ways. but one unexpected one is that it has been sorta like reading your own eulogy while you’re still alive. the outpouring of love is awesome.
one takeaway: go tell your friends how great you think they are.
— Sam Altman (@sama) November 18, 2023
Reactions abound and with the number of moving parts to the situation, the level of damage and disruption to the company is still unclear. Employees who voiced their support may or may not make the move to quit as yet, and whether Sam Altman will actually develop the next competitor to OpenAI is also uncertain. The company’s valuation is also at risk but if interim CEO Shear can reign in the company and shuffle its resources effectively, the damage to the AI giant could be controlled.