Sam Altman returned to OpenAI’s office on Sunday, as an outpouring of support from staff and investors pushed board members to reinstate their fired chief executive.
Altman, who was fired 48 hours earlier by in Silicon Valley for a wrongful termination, posted a photo of himself on X wearing an OpenAI Guest Pass, with the caption: “first time i’ve ever worn one of these.”
According to four people who were briefed about the discussion, the reason for Altman’s return wasn’t immediately apparent. However, Microsoft executives and venture capitalists — which have committed more than $10bn in funding to the company behind ChatGPT – are exploring various options. This includes removing the board of directors and reinstalling Altman.
Altman’s reinstatement as CEO could happen as early as Sunday, but two of these people were adamant that the board would remain an obstacle.
People in the negotiations say that it should be wrapped up today. He wants the board members to resign. “This is a board who fired him [only last Friday],” said this person: “The leverage Sam and [cofounder] Greg [Brockman] has is the support of employees and investors. . . But the board is not a slave to them.”
According to a source with direct knowledge of the memo’s contents, Jason Kwon, chief strategy officer at the generative artificial-intelligence company, said that he is “optimistic,” Altman and Brockman, who quit their jobs on Friday, will return. The Information was the first to report on its existence.
Altman’s attempts to raise money for projects outside of OpenAI, according to two people who were familiar with the situation, had raised concerns among the board.
They said that he had tried to get money from investors in the Middle East, and SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son, in the weeks leading up to his dismissal. However, it is unclear if these efforts were made on behalf of OpenAI or other projects.
Altman, according to a person who spoke to the media, had tried to raise up to $100bn in order to create a microchip company that could compete with Nvidia or TSMC.
The second person who was familiar with the situation stated that “Sam had a nuclear (fission) company called Oklo, and [was] trying to launch an device company as well as the chip company.” The rank and file of OpenAI do not dispute that these are important. OpenAI does not own any of the pieces. “If he is making a lot of money off of companies that are around OpenAI, there could be conflicts of interest.”
Altman, who is 38 years old, has become the de facto spokesperson for generative AI. This technology has seen a breakthrough in 2018, thanks in part to OpenAI’s ChatGPT launch in November 2022. He met with presidents, regulators, and prime ministers. The day before his dismissal he spoke at the Apec Asia-Pacific Regional Summit in San Francisco.
Altman , whose board and supporters were at a standstill on Saturday night when he posted ‘i love the OpenAI team so much’ on X. The tweet was liked or reposted by hundreds of OpenAI employees, including Mira Murati, interim CEO and Brad Lightcap as chief operating officer.
Altman’s investors, including Thrive Capital and Tiger Global (its second largest shareholder), Khosla Ventures, Sequoia Capital, have also shown their support.
Investors and employees may refuse to support the for-profit business if they do not have a seat on the non-profit corporation’s board.
The board’s disagreement with investors has put in doubt a plan to sell up to $1bn of employee stock. Thrive capital was to be the lead tender offer. It was expected that OpenAI would be valued at $86bn .
One person who was involved in the effort of restoring Altman said, “Since [Altman’s sacking], this has been on the books.” This person said that investors were hoping Altman would return “to a company that has been his lifetime’s work”, and that Mira Murati would remain, who was promoted on Friday from chief technology officer (CTO) to interim CEO.
Vinod Khosla said that Altman was welcome back, but he would support him no matter what he did next.
Microsoft, Thrive, Tiger Global, and Sequoia all declined to make any comments. OpenAI was not available for comment immediately.
The board announced that Altman was fired on Friday, citing his failure to be “consistently honest” with them. Since then, the board has not explained its reasons for dismissing Altman.
Andrej Karpathy is a highly respected researcher at OpenAI. He posted this on X Sunday: “The Board had a chance explain their drastic action and they didn’t take it.”
OpenAI’s corporate governance and structure are unusual because of the sudden decision to demote Brockman and oust Altman.
OpenAI’s Board is bound by a charter which pledges that AI will be developed for all mankind.
They hurt the company. A real company has a fiduciary duty. The board of [OpenAI] has a first rule: ‘do not harm’ . . “They caused the company enormous harm,” said one person who was involved in efforts to reinstate Altman.
OpenAI’s chief scientist Ilya Suksever is on the board, along with Adam D’Angelo (Quora’s chief executive), Tasha McCauley from technology entrepreneurship and Helen Toner of the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology.
Investors claim that tensions over how quickly the former CEO wanted to deploy powerful AI-based tools had sparked board concerns about the safety of these tools. They had an argument over moving too quickly. “That’s all,” said one.