AI Technologies , Business Developments , Executive Hires & Insights

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: Business Rewards vs. Security Risks of Generative AI: Executive Panel

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 on 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 in a post to X, formerly known as Twitter, at 1:08 a.m. ET Wednesday. The post also highlights Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's backing.

"With the new board and with Satya's support, I'm looking forward to returning to OpenAI and building on our strong partnership with Microsoft," Altman said.

New Board: Who's In, Who's Out

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 secretary of the Department of the Treasury 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 being 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 the board, 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 1:09 a.m. ET on Wednesday. "We believe this is an essential step on a path to more stable, well-informed and effective governance."

Short-Lived Microsoft Tenure for Altman and Brockman

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

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

Microsoft previously reported - early on Monday - that Altman and Brockman would lead a new advanced AI research team after intense negotiations Sunday failed to return Altman to the CEO position. Subsequent comments by Altman on X, and by Nadella during press interviews Monday, indicated their preferred goal would be getting Altman reinstated as OpenAI's CEO. Talks aimed at delivering that outcome 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 in the early hours of Wednesday.

Despite Altman being gone for just 106 hours, OpenAI managed to burn through two interim CEOs. The first was Chief Technology Officer Mira Murati, who by Sunday was pushing 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 1:20 a.m. ET on Wednesday. "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."

About the Author

Michael Novinson

Michael Novinson

Managing Editor, Business, ISMG

Novinson is responsible for covering the vendor and technology landscape. Prior to joining ISMG, he spent four and a half years covering all the major cybersecurity vendors at CRN, with a focus on their programs and offerings for IT service providers. He was recognized for his breaking news coverage of the August 2019 coordinated ransomware attack against local governments in Texas as well as for his continued reporting around the SolarWinds hack in late 2020 and early 2021.

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