Founder Sam Altman Back as OpenAI CEO Under Revamped Board


Ex-Salesforce CEO Taylor to Chair Initial 3-Member Board, Altman, Brockman Kept Off

Founder Sam Altman Back as OpenAI CEO Under Revamped Board
Sam Altman, co-founder and CEO, OpenAI

OpenAI’s brief global nightmare is over.

See Also: Live Webinar | Generative AI: Myths, Realities and Practical Use Cases

The nonprofit behind ChatGPT reinstated co-founder Sam Altman as its chief executive following a tumultuous 106 hours that saw OpenAI burn through two interim CEOs and erode years of goodwill among employees, investors, customers and the general public. In a pre-Thanksgiving miracle, most of the board members responsible for firing Altman Friday gave up their director positions to get him back (see: How Instability on OpenAI’s Board Led to Sam Altman’s Firing).

“I love OpenAI, and everything I’ve done over the past few days has been in service of keeping this team and its mission together,” Altman wrote on X (formerly Twitter) at 1:08am ET Wednesday. “With the new board and with Satya’s [Nadella, Microsoft CEO] support, I’m looking forward to returning to OpenAI and building on our strong partnership with Microsoft.”

Who’s In and Who’s Out on OpenAI’s New Board of Directors?

The new initial board of OpenAI will be led by Bret Taylor, who served as Salesforce’s co-CEO from November 2021 to January 2023 and participated in Tuesday’s negotiations that successfully brought Altman back to the AI juggernaut. Employees of OpenAI proposed Monday that Taylor join the company as an independent board member in a letter ultimately signed by 95% of the company’s workforce (see: OpenAI CEO Emmett Shear Tries to Right Ship Amid Mass Exodus).

Joining Taylor on OpenAI’s reconstituted board is Larry Summers, who served as Harvard University president from 2001 to 2006 and Treasury Secretary from 1999 to 2001. The sole survivor from the board that carried out Altman’s shocking Friday afternoon firing is Adam D’Angelo, who founded and leads online Q&A website Quora and is viewed as optimistic about the future of AI despite axing Altman.

“I’m looking forward to returning to OpenAI.”

– Sam Altman, co-founder and CEO, OpenAI

What – if any – role Microsoft will have on OpenAI’s new board remains unclear. Despite investing more than $13 billion into OpenAI since 2019 and owning a 49% stake, Microsoft wasn’t part of the company’s previous board and learned about Altman’s firing only one minute before it was announced publicly. It’s possible Microsoft will have observer status rather than a voting board seat to avoid regulatory hurdles.

None of the OpenAI co-founders who previously served on the company’s board – Altman, President Greg Brockman and Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever – will be returning to that role, at least for now. Also exiting the board are technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley and Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology’s Helen Toner, who criticized OpenAI’s approach to safety in an academic paper.

“We are encouraged by the changes to OpenAI’s board,” Nadella wrote on X at 1:09am ET Wednesday. “We believe this is an essential step on a path to more stable, well-informed and effective governance.”

Altman, Brockman Tenure at Microsoft Short-Lived

Altman agreed to an internal investigation into the alleged conduct that prompted the board to fire him, The Information reported early Wednesday. OpenAI’s board accused Altman of not being “consistently candid” with its members in the Friday blog post announcing his firing, but hasn’t provided any specifics on Altman’s alleged misconduct in the days since. The lack of transparency incensed OpenAI employees.

Despite being forced from his position as chairman of OpenAI’s board, Brockman praised the “amazing progress” made in cementing an agreement and promised the company “will come back stronger and more unified than ever” in a post to X at 1:05am ET. Brockman was axed from the board when OpenAI fired Altman, resigned as president later than day, and agreed to tag along with Altman to Microsoft (see: Microsoft Snags OpenAI’s Sam Altman to Lead AI Research Team).

The Seattle-area software and cloud computing behemoth said early Monday Altman and Brockman would lead a new advanced AI research team after intense negotiations Sunday failed to return Altman to the CEO position. By comments by Altman on X and by Nadella during press interviews Monday indicated the ultimate goal was getting Altman reinstated as OpenAI’s CEO, and talks resumed Tuesday.

“Sam, Greg and I have talked and agreed they have a key role to play along with the OpenAI leadership team in ensuring OpenAI continues to thrive and build on its mission,” Nadella wrote on X.

Despite Altman being gone for just 106 hours, OpenAI managed to go through two interim CEOs. The first was Chief Technology Officer Mira Murati, who by Sunday pushed to bring Altman and Brockman back to lead the company. Instead of doing that, OpenAI’s board turned to former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear to right the ship. Shear represented OpenAI’s board in Tuesday’s talks that led to Altman’s return.

“I am deeply pleased by this result, after 72 very intense hours of work,” Shear wrote on X at 1:20am ET Monday. “Coming into OpenAI, I wasn’t sure what the right path would be. This was the pathway that maximized safety alongside doing right by all stakeholders involved. I’m glad to have been a part of the solution.”


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