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Sam Altman is back at OpenAI as CEO less than a week after he was fired

December 7, 2023


On an early Wednesday morning in the last week of November, a tweet from OpenAI confirmed that Sam Altman would be returning as CEO. This news follows shortly after OpenAI announced that the board of directors decided to remove Altman from the company.

What is OpenAI?

OpenAI was founded in 2015 by Elon Musk, Sam Altman, Peter Thirl, Reid Hoffman, Greg Brockman and other prominent Silicon Valley individuals, with the goal of creating a non-profit focused on developing AI beneficial to humanity. In 2019, Microsoft partnered with OpenAI, investing $1 billion for an exclusivity license to use OpenAI’s technology. OpenAI has launched many products,  the most notable being ChatGPT. With the success of OpenAI, it is being reported that Microsoft would invest $10 billion over the next couple of years.

The Removal of Sam Altman from OpenAI

There is much speculation about the abrupt news of Altman’s removal on November 16, 2023, as there is not much information published online about his sudden firing. The board of directors of OpenAI stated on their website that Altman “was not consistently candid in his communications with the board”, leading to a loss in confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI. The board provided no further commentary regarding the reason behind his removal.

Timeline of Events

On November 16th, 2023, OpenAI announced that the board had decided to fire Altman from OpenAI. A day later, Greg Brockman, a co-founder of OpenAI, left the board following the news of Altman’s departure but continued to work at the organization. On November 19th, Altman met with the board to discuss his return. On November 20th, Altman announced he would be joining Microsoft with Brockman to lead a new AI research team. On the same day, 700 of 770 OpenAI employees wrote to the board threatening to leave to Microsoft if Altman was not reinstated. Finally, on November 21st, Altman and OpenAI reached an agreement for his return, on the condition that there be a new board of directors.

Looking Forward

Sam Altman is now back as CEO, and his reinstatement has brought changes to the board of OpenAI. Microsoft now has a non-voting, observer position on OpenAI’s board. The new board of directors consists of Bret Taylor, Larry Summers, and Adam D’Angelo, the latter being the only member from the old board who still holds a position on the new board. Those who are no longer on the board are Helen Toner, Tasha McCauley and Ilya Sutskever. Toner and Sutskever were both involved in the decision to remove Altman on November 16th. Despite this, Altman had very kind words to the departing board members in an announcement posted on OpenAI for his return. He stated he is “grateful to Adam, Tasha, and Helen for working with us to come to this solution that best serves the mission.” OpenAI is now focused on advancing its research, continuing to improve and deploy products and building a diverse board and governance structure.

Author: Jeffreen Rahman, 2023/2024 Articling Student-at-Law


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