Back to Base: Sam Altman Reinstated as OpenAI CEO
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In yet another plot twist in a dramatic Silicon Valley power struggle, Sam Altman was reinstated as OpenAI CEO just three days after being fired without notice.
Just after midnight on 22 November 2023, Sam Altman was reinstated as OpenAI's chief executive following a protest by his allies within the company, employees, and investors.
The company's board of directors, which ousted him on Friday, will be overhauled to remove several members who had opposed Mr. Altman.
The Weekend Saga
This has been one of the most eventful weekends the tech industry has ever seen. In just four days, Sam Altman was fired from OpenAI, joined Microsoft, and has been reinstated as the CEO at OpenAI again.
Let's look at this incredibly short timeline of extremely dramatic events.
Friday: Sam Altman is fired as CEO over a surprise Zoom call with the board. Greg Brockman, the company's president, was also removed from his post but allowed to stay on at the company. A few hours later, he resigned in solidarity with Altman.
Monday: Altman is hired by Microsoft to head up their AI team, and former Twitch CEO and co-founder Emmett Shear is appointed as interim CEO at OpenAI. Meanwhile, 730 employees of OpenAI signed a letter threatening to quit and join Sam Altman at Microsoft unless the OpenAI board resigns and reappoints Altman as CEO.
Tuesday/ Wednesday: Sam Altman is reinstated as CEO. The board that ousted him is jettisoned, except for Adam D'Angelo.
A Microsoft minute
OpenAI said in a statement at midnight tonight, "We have reached an agreement in principle for Sam to return to OpenAI as CEO with a new initial board of Bret Taylor (Chair), Larry Summers, and Adam D'Angelo.
We are collaborating to figure out the details. Thank you so much for your patience through this."
There is speculation that this could be a result of pressure from employees as well as investors. Microsoft is one of the biggest investors in Open AI, with the investment rumored to be a whopping $10 billion.
On 15 November 2023, Microsoft unveiled two custom-designed chips and integrated systems, including the Microsoft Azure Maia AI Accelerator, which is optimized for artificial intelligence (AI) tasks and generative AI and will support the Microsoft Cloud suite. These efforts are supposedly closely supported by OpenAI, and Sam Altman has been pivotal to them.
That could explain why Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wasted no time absorbing Sam Altman into his company. But given that the appointment lasted exactly for a day, it seems to have been a stop-gap measure while Altman negotiated a return to OpenAI.
Sam Altman's return to OpenAI
Altman was supported by 730 OpenAI employees threatening to quit and follow him to Microsoft in an open letter to the board, which said:
"Your actions have made it obvious that you are incapable of overseeing OpenAl. We are unable to work for or with people that lack competence, judgment, 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 OpenGL 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."
Altman's return is likely to pacify investors who might have been spooked by the emotionally charged events of the past four days. He posted about his return on X, saying:
"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. When I decided to join MSFT on sun evening, it was clear that was the best path for me and the team. With the new board and W Satya's support, I'm looking forward to returning to OpenAI and building on our strong partnership with MSFT."
Altman's obvious support from employees and investors may help restore stability and confidence at OpenAI. With a new board, the return of Altman, and solidarity among the employees, OpenAI seems poised to make a fresh start.
After all, as OpenAI CTO and the original choice to replace Altman, Mira Murati posted on X, "OpenAI is nothing without its people".
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Amrusha is a versatile professional with over 12 years of experience in journalism, broadcast news production, and media consulting. Her impressive career includes collaborating extensively with prominent global enterprises. She garnered recognition for her exceptional work in producing acclaimed shows for Bloomberg, a renowned business news network. Notably, these shows have been incorporated into the esteemed curriculum of Harvard Business School. Amrusha's expertise also encompassed a 4-year tenure as a consultant at Omidyar Network, a leading global impact investing firm. In addition, she played a pivotal role in the launch and content strategy management of the startup Live History India.
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