The OpenAI headquarters in San Francisco have had a busy weekend. Sam Altman, the company’s CEO and co-founder, was unexpectedly fired by the board of directors on Friday, sparking an institutional crisis that has led to senior staff resigning in protest and nearly 700 rank-and-file employees threatening to follow suit. Even after Microsoft swooped in to hire Altman’s cohort for its own AI projects, the board is now being asked to resign. To prepare for Thanksgiving on Thursday, here is all the information you require.
November 16th, Thursday
According to internet standards, this saga started on Thursday, or last Thursday. Ilya Sutskever, the head researcher and board member of OpenAI, contacted Altman to schedule a meeting for the following day at noon in response to Greg Brockman’s tweet. Brockman claimed that OpenAI CTO Mira Murati, the company’s first interim CEO, was informed of the impending firings in the same tweet chain ( posted Friday night ):
Sam received a text from Ilya last night inviting him to join her on Friday at noon. Greg was the only member of the board present when Sam attended a Google Meet. Sam was informed by Ilya that the news of his termination was imminent.
– Ilya sent Greg a text at 12:19 PM asking him to call her right away. Ilya sent a Google Meet link at 12:23PM. Sam had been fired, and Greg was informed that he was being fired from his position despite being essential to the business. OpenAI released a blog post around the same time.
– Other than Mira, who learned about it the previous evening, the management team, as far as we know, was informed of this shortly after.
November 17th, Friday
At that Friday noon meeting, everything got going. Brockman was told that he would lose his position on the company’s board but still serve as president, reporting to Murati once she takes office. Brockman claims that Altman learned of his termination just ten minutes after the announcement to the public was made. Following that, Sutskever wrote a company-wide email stating that” Change can be scary,” according to The Information.
In an all-hands meeting later that afternoon, the OpenAI board and the new CEO Murati spoke to a” shocked” workforce. Sutskever reportedly stated during that meeting that the changes would “make us feel closer” in the long run.
At this point, Microsoft, which recently contributed a sizeable$ 10 billion to OpenAI’s coffers as part of an enormous, multi-year investment deal with the business, weighed in on what had happened. The following statement was made public by CEO Satya Nadella:
With more than 100 announcements across the entire tech stack, from Copilot to AI systems, models, and tools in Azure, as you saw at Microsoft Ignite this week, we’re continuing to innovate quickly for this era of AI. Most importantly, we’re dedicated to giving our customers everything they need while also planning for the future. We are fully committed to our partnership, Mira and the team, and have a long-term agreement with OpenAI that gives us complete access to everything we need to deliver on our innovation agenda and exciting product roadmap. Together, we’ll keep bringing the world the real advantages of this technology.
Things really started to spiral by Friday night. Brockman declared his resignation in protest on Twitter. Aleksander Madry, the head of preparedness and Jakub Pachocki, both announced their resignations in unison.
What’s going on
November 18–19, Saturday/Sunday
The backtracking starts on November 18th, a Saturday. ” Mr. Altman’s departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently forthright in his communications with it, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities,” according to the termination notice from Altman on Friday. His ability to lead OpenAI is no longer respected by the board.
The decision” took]the management team” by surprise, according to OpenAI COO Brad Lightcap, who also stated that management had been in conversation” with the board to better understand the reasons and process behind their decision” in internal communications obtained by Axios the following morning.
Lightcap wrote,” We can say with certainty that the board’s decision was not influenced by wrongdoing or anything pertaining to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices.” ” We still share your concerns about how the process has been handled, are working to resolve the situation, and will provide updates as we’re able. Sam and the board had a communication breakdown.
Following Altman’s firing, Thrive Capital, which is responsible for the$ 86 billion share sale of OpenAI, is in jeopardy, according to a report from The Information published in the middle of the morning on Saturday. Even if the sale is successful, it will probably be valued less highly, according to three unnamed sources within the company. Current and former employees, many of whom received stock as hiring incentives, were in line for a sizable payout as the price of OpenAI shares has tripled since the start of the year and quadrupled since 2021. Perhaps there wo n’t be a payout any longer.
Altman announced on Twitter on Saturday afternoon that Brockman would be helping him launch a new AI startup, possibly using AI chips to challenge NVIDIA’s market dominance. Numerous investors in OpenAI started pressuring the board of directors to reinstate Altman and Brockman at this point, understandably worried that their money was about to soar in generative smoke.
According to reports, Satya Nadella from Microsoft led that charge. According to Bloomberg’s sources, Nadella was “enraged” about the choice to fire Altman, especially after being given only” a few minutes” of notice before the announcement was made. She even reportedly hired Altmann and his cohort for their own AI initiatives.
Microsoft also has investment leverage, much of it in the form of cloud compute credits rather than hard currency ( which are necessary for the GPT platform to function ). The startup’s operations would be severely hampered if those credits were denied to OpenAI.
When the board appointed Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear as the new interim CEO on Sunday, Mira Murati’s 48-hour tenure as CEO of OpenAI came to an end. Ashley Vance, a reporter for Bloomberg, claims that Murati intended to compel the board of directors to take action by rehiring Altman and Brockman. Instead, the board “found their own CEO Emmett Shear” and “went into complete silence.” Altman posted a picture of himself holding up his green” Guest” badge while spending Sunday at OpenAI’s headquarters.
He wrote,” First and last time I’ve ever worn one of these.”
November 20th, Monday
More than 500 OpenAI employees posted an open letter online on Monday morning. If the board does n’t step down and reinstate Altman and Brockman ( and probably the other two as well ), the group threatened to leave and join the new Microsoft subsidiary. Since then, there have been close to 700 signatories.
Despite Sutskever’s early morning mea culpa, it does n’t appear that will be the case. Microsoft has already fired Altman and Brockman, and Shear has been named interim CEO. The board has also missed its deadline to respond to the open letter.
Shear, who served as CEO of Twitch for more than 16 years before resigning in March, has spent the last seven months as a partner at Y Combinator. For less than$ 1 billion, Amazon purchased the live video streaming app in 2014.
I accepted this position because I think OpenAI is among the most significant businesses in existence right now. Shear told OpenAI employees on Monday that she did not take the board’s decision to hire me lightly when they shared the situation.
In the end, he continued,” I felt obligated to assist if I could.”
Altman’s termination, according to Shear, was “handled very poorly, which has seriously damaged our trust.” In order to report on the run-up to Friday’s SNAFU, he stated that the company will employ an impartial investigator.
Shear continued,” The board did not remove Sam because of any specific safety disagreement; their justification was entirely different from that.” ” I’m not crazy enough to accept this position for the commercialization of our fantastic models without board support.”
The OpenAI leadership team, particularly Mira Brad and Jason, but really all of them, have been doing an incredible job through this that will be remembered, Altman wrote after leaving for Microsoft on Monday.
He wrote,” Incredibly proud of them.”