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Hundreds of OpenAI employees threaten to follow Altman to Microsoft unless board resigns

Watch a timeline of the drama between Sam Altman, OpenAI and Microsoft

Hundreds of OpenAI employees, including co-founder and board member Ilya Sutskever, have signed a letter demanding that either OpenAI’s remaining board members resign or those OpenAI employees will join Sam Altman’s new venture at Microsoft, according to NBCNews.

“Your actions have made it obvious that you are incapable of overseeing OpenAI,” the letter says. About 667 people have signed the letter. OpenAI has about 770 employees.

The letter says that Microsoft has “assured” those employees that they would have jobs at the new subsidiary, should they “choose to join.”

Signatories include some of OpenAI’s most senior executives. Former interim CEO Mira Murati and OpenAI COO Brad Lightcap are the first two signatories on the letter. Murati was appointed as CEO following Altman’s exit but was then succeeded by Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear.

Wired first reported on the letter Monday morning.

Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, speaks during The Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Tech Live conference in Laguna Beach, California, on Oct. 17, 2023.

Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images

In an about-face, Sutskever’s name appears as a signature on the letter. He wrote Monday morning on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, that he “deeply” regretted his participation in the “board’s actions.”

Multiple OpenAI employees voiced their support on social media as well. “OpenAI is nothing without its people,” the missives said.

Altman was forced out Friday by OpenAI’s board, including Sutskever, which cited unspecified issues with his communications. That prompted a backlash from employees and investors, CNBC has previously reported, including Microsoft, Thrive Capital, and Sequoia.

The board then attempted to negotiate Altman’s return, but those talks were unsuccessful. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on Sunday announced that Altman and fellow OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman would join the company in a new, largely independent venture. Nadella’s announcement also referred to their “colleagues” joining Microsoft, although the number wasn’t clear.

Microsoft declined to comment on whether it would hire employees who choose to leave OpenAI. OpenAI wasn’t immediately available to comment on the letter.

Here’s the full note, emphasis theirs:

“To the Board of Directors at OpenAI,

OpenAI is the world’s leading AI company. We, the employees of OpenAI, have developed the best models and pushed the field to new frontiers. Our work on AI safety and governance shapes global norms. The products we built are used by millions of people around the world. Until now, the company we work for and cherish has never been in a stronger position.

The process through which you terminated Sam Altman and removed Greg Brockman from the board has jeopardized all of this work and undermined our mission and company. Your conduct has made it clear you did not have the competence to oversee OpenAI.

When we all unexpectedly learned of your decision, the leadership team of OpenAI acted swiftly to stabilize the company. They carefully listened to your concerns and tried to cooperate with you on all grounds. Despite many requests for specific facts for your allegations, you have never provided any written evidence. They also increasingly realized you were not capable of carrying out your duties, and were negotiating in bad faith.

The leadership team suggested that the most stabilizing path forward – the one that would best serve our mission, company, stakeholders, employees and the public – would be for you to resign and put in place a qualified board that could lead the company forward in stability. Leadership worked with you around the clock to find a mutually agreeable outcome. Yet within two days of your initial decision, you again replaced interim CEO Mira Murati against the best interests of the company. You also informed the leadership team that allowing the company to be destroyed “would be consistent with the mission.”

Your actions have made it obvious that you are incapable of overseeing OpenAI. We are unable to work for or with people that lack competence, judgement and care for our mission and employees. We, the undersigned, may choose to resign from OpenAI and join the newly announced Microsoft subsidiary run by Sam Altman and Greg Brockman. Microsoft has assured us that there are positions for all OpenAI employees at this new subsidiary should we choose to join. We will take this step imminently, unless all current board members resign, and the board appoints two new lead independent directors, such as Bret Taylor and Will Hurd, and reinstates Sam Altman and Greg Brockman.”

CNBC’s Jordan Novet and Hayden Field contributed to this report.

Read more CNBC news on OpenAI

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

109 replies on “Hundreds of OpenAI employees threaten to follow Altman to Microsoft unless board resigns”

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