It has been a chaotic weekend at OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, with a whirlwind of events unfolding around Sam Altman, one of the company’s cofounders and now its former CEO.
On Friday afternoon, Altman was abruptly fired by OpenAI’s four-person board, reportedly with little notice. The next day, however, reports surfaced that the board was having second thoughts and wanted Altman back. By Monday, Altman had landed a new job—at Microsoft (MSFT).
Here’s a complete timeline of what happened:
Friday (Nov. 17): OpenAI issued a surprise statement in the afternoon announcing Sam Altman would step down as both CEO and a board member of the company. OpenAI said “a deliberative review” by the company’s board concluded that Altman “was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.”
OpenAI said Altman would be immediately succeeded by chief technology officer Mira Murati as interim CEO as the company began searching for his permanent replacement.
OpenAI also ousted its board chairman Greg Brockman, who cofounded the company along with Altman in 2015 and served as its president. OpenAI said in the announcement Brockman would remain as president and report to interim CEO Murati. But Brockman quit upon learning the news.
In an X post later that day, Brockman detailed the events leading up to Altman’s firing. He suggested the ousting was due to a disagreement between Altman and OpenAI’s chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who is also a cofounder and a board member.
Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today.
Let us first say thank you to all the incredible people who we have worked with at OpenAI, our customers, our investors, and all of those who have been reaching out.
We too are still trying to figure out exactly…
— Greg Brockman (@gdb) November 18, 2023
Saturday (Nov. 19): The story took a dramatic turn after multiple outlets, including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, reported OpenAI’s board was having second thoughts due to pressure from investors and employees. The board reportedly engaged with Altman and Brockman to discuss their return to the company.
Altman tweeted Saturday night, “I love the OpenAI team so much.”
Sunday (Nov. 20): Altman spent the day at OpenAI’s headquarters in San Francisco negotiating with the company’s board. He posted a photo on X of himself wearing a guest badge and wrote, “first and last time i ever wear one of these.”
first and last time i ever wear one of these pic.twitter.com/u3iKwyWj0a
— Sam Altman (@sama) November 19, 2023
Later that day, OpenAI said in a note to its employees that Altman would not be returning as CEO. The company also named Emmett Shear, the former CEO of Amazon’s streaming service Twitch, as interim CEO. Murati will return to her posting as chief technology officer.
Monday (Nov. 20): In another surprise move, Microsoft announced Altman and Brockman would join the tech giant to lead a new A.I. research lab. In an X post, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said Microsoft remains committed to its $10 billion long-term partnership with OpenAI and that Altman’s new group will operate as an independent entity within Microsoft.
“The mission continues,” Altman posted on X early Monday.
Meanwhile, OpenAI’s board is facing a new crisis. As of Monday morning, more than 550 of the company’s 700 employees had signed a letter saying they might quit to join Altman unless the board resigned, according to the New York Times.
OpenAI’s chief scientist Sutskever posted on X saying he deeply regrets participating in the board’s actions last week. Multiple OpenAI employees, including Murati, tweeted “OpenAI is nothing without its people.” Altman and Brockman retweeted many of those posts with a heart emoji.
I deeply regret my participation in the board's actions. I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we've built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company.
— Ilya Sutskever (@ilyasut) November 20, 2023
Aside from Sutskever, OpenAI has three other board members: Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Helen Toner, a researcher at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology.
Wednesday (Nov. 22): After a weekend of intense negotiation among board members, investors and Altman himself, OpenAI agreed to bring Altman as CEO and form a new board. Brockman is also returning as president, but neither he nor Altman is getting their board seats back.
OpenAI’s new board consists of existing member D’Angelo, former Twitter chairman Bret Taylor and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. Sutskever, McCauley and Toner are now out.