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The week of upheaval at OpenAI seems to be concluding with Altman and Brockman getting reinstated to lead the charge at OpenAI and a reshuffle of the board of directors responsible for firing them.
Altman’s removal, announced on November 17, was attributed to a lack of consistent communication with the board, undermining its confidence in his leadership. The board, including Ilya lya Sutskever, Adam D’Angelo, Tasha McCauley, and Helen Toner, also removed Greg Brockman as the chairman but retained him as the president; however, he later resigned.
This development triggered swift changes in leadership, with Mira Murati and Twitch CEO Emmett Shear named interim CEO. Speculation arose about Murati’s potential dismissal due to perceived alignment with Altman. Meanwhile, new reports emerged that the position was also offered to former CEO GitHub CEO Nat Friedman and Scale AI CEO Alex Wang before ultimately deciding on Emmett Shear.
Reports further suggested a growing movement among investors and employees advocating Altman’s reinstatement.
Microsoft, a significant investor in OpenAI, was reportedly blindsided by Altman’s removal, causing tension. However, there were conflicting reports about a potential return for Altman, with several media outlets indicating that venture capitalists threatened lawsuits and mass revolts, leading to a reconsideration by the board. Despite nearly 500 OpenAI employees, which later expanded to 747, threatening to quit unless Altman returned, the board remained steadfast in its decisions as of November 20.
Meanwhile, Reuters indicated that the OpenAI board approached Anthropic’s CEO, Dario Amodei, offering him a CEO position in OpenAI and talking about a potential merger of the two rivals. However, Amodei declined both offers.
The Information reported that over 100 OpenAI employees are in contact with Anthropic and other companies, including Google Cloud and Cohere. It may be a tactic to pressure the board to reverse its decision. Salesforce also joined the fray by announcing that the company welcomes OpenAI employees in its Einstein Trusted AI team, reported Bloomberg.
New reports emerged on November 21 that the Microsoft-Sam Altman deal isn’t finalised, and Altman could still return to OpenAI as CEO.
CNBC published a report citing Satya Nadella, who said, “At this point, I think it’s very clear that something has to change around the governance,” explicitly mentioning that the board structure needs to change at OpenAI. He was also open to absorbing OpenAI employees who threatened to quit.
On November 21, things calmed down a bit. However, Bloomberg reported that Emmett Shear will take over as CEO if the board doesn’t tell the reason for Sam Altman’s removal.
There was also some clarity about why the board members went after Altman. The New York Times, citing anonymous sources, indicated that Altman might have tried to push Helen Toner out of the OpenAI board because she had written a critical paper against the company.
On November 22, things finally became clear, with OpenAI announcing that Sam Altman will return as the CEO of OpenAI. Greg Brockman would return as well. Salesforce co-chair Bert Taylor will chair the new board and will consist of Larry Summers, former Treasury Secretary and Adam D’Angelo.
Previous board members, including Ilya lya Sutskever, Tasha McCauley, and Helen Toner, are no longer serving.
Satya Nadella also tweeted supporting the decision to change the OpenAI board.
According to The Verge, this small board will appoint other members in due time to expand the number to nine members. Sam Altman also agreed to an investigation upon return.
As of now, the saga seems to be over. However, many rifts could emerge during the internal investigations later.