The OpenAI drama has taken another turn as the A.I. company announced today (Nov. 22) Sam Altman will return as CEO with a significant change to its board of directors. In an X post, OpenAI said the company has agreed “in principle” for Altman to return and to form a new board consisting of existing member Adam D’Angelo and two new directors: former Twitter chairman Bret Taylor and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.
“We are collaborating to figure out the details,” OpenAI said in the post.
The new board formation suggests three previous directors—Ilya Sutskever, Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner—are now out. Last Friday (Nov. 17), these three directors and D’Angelo voted to fire Altman as CEO and remove him and chairman Greg Brockman from the board. Brockman, an OpenAI cofounder, resigned as the company’s president the same day even though the board offered to keep his executive position.
With Altman’s return, Brockman is also going back to OpenAI. Today, he posted a group photo of himself and dozens of OpenAI employees on X with the caption “we are so back.” In the photo, Altman can be vaguely made out near the upper right corner looking at his phone.
we are so back pic.twitter.com/YcKwkqdNs5
— Greg Brockman (@gdb) November 22, 2023
OpenAI’s boardroom shakeup
Due to OpenAI’s unusual structure as a capped profit arm under a nonprofit organization, the company’s board has total control over matters like CEO appointment, even though the majority of board directors don’t work at the company or own a large stake of it. With the exception of Sutskever, who is OpenAI’s cofounder and chief scientist, none of the other board members had any financial or operational ties with the company.
“Typically, a tech company’s board is composed of some of its major investors, a few senior executives of the company and outside experts,” Colin Levy, a corporate lawyer who has worked with large tech companies and startups for over a decade, told Observer. “It’s definitely unusual that Microsoft (MSFT) has invested billions of dollars in OpenAI and yet no one from Microsoft has a board seat.”
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal yesterday (Nov. 21), Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said there should be governance changes at OpenAI.
In the new board makeup, Taylor will serve as OpenAI’s chairman. Taylor, 43, has a technical background and deep roots in the tech industry. He’s best known for co-creating Google Maps and the “like” button on Facebook during his tenures at both companies. He also briefly served as board chairman of Twitter (until its sale to Elon Musk in October 2022) and the co-CEO of Salesforce. Taylor today shared OpenAI’s announcement on X with a heart emoji.
Summers, 68, served as the U.S. Secretary of Treasury from 1999 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton and director of the National Economic Council from 2009 to 2010 under President Barrack Obama.
OpenAI had three CEOs in three days
On Sunday (Nov. 19), two days after being kicked out as CEO, Altman announced he and Brockman had agreed to join Microsoft to start a new A.I. research lab. The move prompted a coup at OpenAI where almost all of its 770 employees threatened to quit unless the board reinstated Altman as CEO.
“When I decided to join [Microsoft on Sunday] evening, it was clear that was the best path for me and the team. 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 posted on X today.
Following Friday’s event, there were a lot of questions from OpenAI’s investors and senior leadership team about what drove the board’s decision to fire Atlman but they reportedly didn’t receive much of an answer. In an earlier tweet today, Altman called out OpenAI’s chief technology officer Mira Murati, chief operating officer Brad Lightcap and chief strategy officer Jason Kwon for “doing an incredible job through this that will be in the history books.” Murati was first named as interim CEO when Altman was fired on Friday. OpenAI later appointed Twitch cofounder Emmett Shear as Altman’s temporary replacement.
Shear, who has changed his X bio to “interim ex-CEO of OpenAI,” posted on the platform, “I am deeply pleased by this result…This was the pathway that maximized safety alongside doing right by all stakeholders involved.”
ceo any% 55:32 — new record???
— Emmett Shear (@eshear) November 22, 2023
“We believe this is a first essential step on a path to more stable, well-informed, and effective governance,” tweeted Microsoft CEO Nadella. “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.”