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Sam Altman set to return as OpenAI CEO after firing

Written by Wed 22 Nov 2023

Sam Altman is set to return as CEO of OpenAI after pressure from OpenAI investors and staff.

OpenAI said it had ‘reached an agreement in principle for his reinstatement’ in a post on X, (formerly Twitter). 

Altman had reportedly made the removal of the board, and the overhauling of OpenAI’s governance as a precondition for his return.

“I love OpenAI, and everything I have done over the past few days has been in service of keeping this team and its mission together … with the new board … I am looking forward to returning to OpenAI, and building on our strong partnership with Microsoft,” said Altman in a post on X.

OpenAI’s board will now be led by Bret Taylor, the former co-CEO of software firm Salesforce. The board will also feature former US Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers; and CEO of Quora, Adam D’Angelo. D’Angelo is a current board member involved in Altman’s previous dismissal. 

“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,” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, in a post on X.

Altman was fired by OpenAI for allegedly lying to the board. Altman was subsequently hired by Microsoft to lead a new AI research team with former OpenAI President, Greg Brockman. Brockman also confirmed his return to OpenAI.

Almost all of the OpenAI workforce issued a collective ultimatum to OpenAI, stating that they would resign if the board did not resign and re-hire Altman.

Bloomberg News reported that OpenAI confirmed to staff on Monday that it was in ‘intense discussions’ to bring back the ChatGPT creator.

“We are continuing to go over mutually acceptable options, and are scheduled to speak again tomorrow morning when everyone’s had a little more sleep,” said Anna Makanju, Vice President of Global Affairs at OpenAI in the memo.

If made official, Altman’s return would mark OpenAI’s fourth CEO in just five days.

OpenAI’s Interim CEOs

Ex-Twitch boss, Emmett Shear, was interim CEO of OpenAI before Altman’s rehiring. On 20 November, Shear shared a plan for the next steps of OpenAI, saying he will reform the startup’s management team and hire an independent investigator to look into Altman’s dismissal.

Shear was part of the initial group of startups that went through the Y Combinator accelerator programme. Y Combinator is a startup accelerator that provides funding, mentorship, and resources to early-stage startups. He is known to be outspoken regarding the safe development of artificial intelligence (AI).

Shears replaced former interim CEO Mira Murati on 19 November. The board appointed Murati on 17 November due to her ‘unique skill set’ and experience as the company’s Chief Technology Officer. 

“Given her long tenure and close engagement with all aspects of the company, including her experience in AI governance and policy, the board believes she is uniquely qualified for the role and anticipates a seamless transition while it conducts a formal search for a permanent CEO,” said OpenAI.

According to Bloomberg, Murati planned to re-hire co-founder of OpenAI, Sam Altman, and former President of OpenAI, Greg Brockman, in an unspecified capacity. 

OpenAI board members were seeking to hire their own CEO to succeed Altman. However, a new CEO hire would taken critically by investors, led by Microsoft and Thrive Capital. These companies urged the board to step down and rallied for Altman’s reinstatement.

The New York Times reported that the board doubled down on their choice and that the decision was the ‘only path to defend the mission of OpenAI’.

“Put simply, Sam’s behaviour and lack of transparency in his interactions with the board undermined the board’s ability to effectively supervise the company in the manner it was mandated to do,” said the internal memo obtained by The New York Times.

Image Credit: Reuters

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Written by Wed 22 Nov 2023

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