Sam Altman’s unexpected move to Microsoft after being abruptly fired from OpenAI isn’t official, it’s the other way around

 

Sam Altman’s unexpected move to Microsoft after being abruptly fired from OpenAI isn’t official. Multiple individuals claim that Altman and co-founder Greg Brockman are willing to rejoin OpenAI—but only if the board members who fired them first resign. The board is under tremendous pressure given the expected departure of almost every OpenAI staffer, including chief scientist and board member Ilya Sutskever, who led Altman’s dismissal.

The situation worsens with only two of the three members still in need of reconsideration. The statement “we are all going to work together some way or other” in Altman’s X post suggests that efforts to end the dispute are still ongoing. According to many people with knowledge of the matter, Altman, former president Brockman, and the company’s investors are aggressively looking for a seamless exit strategy for the board. These insiders referred to Microsoft’s hiring announcement—which necessitated a crisis resolution before Monday’s stock market opened—as a “holding pattern.”

After the story went public, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made appearances on CNBC and Bloomberg TV. When CNBC’s Jon Fortt directly inquired whether Sam Altman and the staff from OpenAI would join Microsoft, Nadella responded, “that is for the OpenAI board and management and employees to choose.” He further stated that Microsoft “chose to explicitly partner with OpenAI [and] obviously that depends on the people at OpenAI staying there or coming to Microsoft, so I’m open to both options.” Regarding Microsoft’s potential seat on OpenAI’s board, Nadella remarked that “it’s clear something has to change around the governance — we will have a good dialogue with their board on that, and walk through that as that evolves.” After Altman was abruptly fired on Friday, talks over his possible return with the board came to a standstill. In order to enable Altman’s possible comeback, the investors and management team of OpenAI were covertly conducting their own CEO search at the same time that the board was looking for a replacement. The board said on Sunday that Emmett Shear, a co-founder of Twitch, will take over as CEO, ostensibly ending the chance of Altman’s comeback. Since Friday, there has been a power struggle within OpenAI, with nearly every employee uniting against the current three-person board, which is opposed to Altman. According to a person familiar with the situation, staff members at the company’s San Francisco headquarters declined to show up for an emergency meeting with new CEO Emmett Shear on Sunday. This person said that staff members responded to the news in OpenAI’s Slack channel by posting a “fuck you” emoji. Sutskever’s position on the board was reversed later that night, even though he had been involved in Altman’s dismissal only a few days before. He signed on to an open letter to the board on Monday, in which he called for their resignation and Altman’s return.

The letter has since been signed by almost every employee of the company. Since Friday, there has been a power struggle within OpenAI, with nearly every employee uniting against the current three-person board, which is opposed to Altman. Staff members at the company’s San Francisco headquarters declined to show up for an emergency meeting with new CEO Emmett Shear on Sunday. Staff members responded to the news in OpenAI’s Slack channel by posting a “fuck you” emoji. Sutskever’s position on the board was reversed later that night, even though he had been involved in Altman’s dismissal only a few days before. He signed on to an open letter to the board on Monday, in which he called for their resignation and Altman’s return. The letter has since been signed by almost every employee of the company. Employees began posting on social media on Monday, stating that they are keeping the lights on and ensuring service stability for OpenAI’s developers. We’ve been informed that this is being done to prevent the company from completely collapsing while the board is under pressure to step down.

According to people familiar with the situation, new CEO Emmett Shear has not been able to obtain written documentation of the board’s comprehensive justification for Altman’s termination, nor has it been shared with the company’s investors. He stated that his first task would be to “hire an independent investigator to dig into the entire process leading up to this point and generate a full report” in a note sent to staff members on Sunday night. Altman addressed the matter in a subsequent X post shortly after the original publication of this story, saying that his “primary goal is to guarantee that OpenAI stays thriving.” He underlined Microsoft’s and his shared commitment to making sure business as usual for their partners and clients continues smoothly. But it’s unclear how switching to Microsoft will work with the more than 700 former OpenAI workers and guarantee the company’s continued success.

Furthermore, it’s unclear how, once integrated into Microsoft, this shift will fit in as a priority for these former employees. In addition, Altman’s exclusion from Microsoft’s internal corporate directory begs the question of how involved the company is with him at the moment. The CEO of Quora, Adam D’Angelo, Tasha McCauley, the former CEO of GeoSim Systems, and Helen Toner, the director of strategy at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, are the remaining board members who oppose Altman’s reappointment.

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