Updated Nov 20, 2023 - Business

OpenAI board names a new interim CEO — and it's not Sam Altman

Photo of Sam Altman speaking on stage in front of sign that says "OpenAI."

Sam Altman. Photo: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images

OpenAI's board has hired Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear as its interim CEO, a source familiar with the matter told Axios.

Why it matters: The move gives the ChatGPT maker its third CEO in three days and means that ousted former CEO Sam Altman, who'd been in weekend-long talks with the board, will not be returning. Instead, the pair are heading to Microsoft to lead a new research unit.

  • The Information earlier reported the appointment, saying that OpenAI co-founder Ilya Sutskever — who led the board revolt Friday that toppled Altman — delivered the news to the company Sunday night after a long weekend of rumor and uncertainty.

The big picture: Altman's sudden firing stunned the tech industry, as he had become the face of the current boom in AI during OpenAI's ascent following the success of ChatGPT.

What he's saying: "Today I got a call inviting me to consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to become the interim CEO of @OpenAI," Shear posted on X later in the evening. "Ultimately I felt that I had a duty to help if I could."

  • Read his full post, including his 30-day plan as CEO, at the bottom.

Catch up quick: On Friday afternoon, OpenAI announced that Altman would be leaving the company after its board concluded that he had not been "consistently candid in his communications."

  • President Greg Brockman soon after resigned, with several senior researchers leaving later that day.
  • Microsoft, OpenAI's biggest investor and business partner, and the company's other shareholders were also caught by surprise by the move. The tech giant nonetheless stated it remains committed to the company.
  • CTO Mira Murati was appointed interim CEO Friday. It's not clear what her status will be following Shear's appointment.

Shear stepped down as CEO of Amazon-owned Twitch back in March.

  • He has been vocal in his support for a "slowdown" of work on advanced AI to ensure that it's safe.

Zoom in: Rumors swirled all weekend as social media posts from Altman and media reports suggested his return might be imminent.

  • Sunday afternoon Altman posted a selfie holding up an OpenAI "guest" badge inside the office and wrote, "First and last time I ever wear one of these."
  • Many took that as a sign of his imminent return, but it turned out to have a different meaning.

What to watch: The company could face a wave of resignations of key talent. Altman and Brockman are reportedly planning to launch their own new AI startup.

  • The turmoil at OpenAI has also stirred worry at the many startups who depend on OpenAI's products and services.

OpenAI and Microsoft representatives did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Shear's full post about taking the interim job:

Today I got a call inviting me to consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to become the interim CEO of @OpenAI. After consulting with my family and reflecting on it for just a few hours, I accepted. I had recently resigned from my role as CEO of Twitch due to the birth of my now 9 month old son. Spending time with him has been every bit as rewarding as I thought it would be, and I was happily avoiding full time employment. I took this job because I believe that OpenAI is one of the most important companies currently in existence. When the board shared the situation and asked me to take the role, I did not make the decision lightly. Ultimately I felt that I had a duty to help if I could.

I have spent today drinking from the firehose as much as possible, speaking with the board, a small number of major partners, and listening to employees. Our partnership with Microsoft remains strong, and my priority in the coming weeks will be to make sure we continue to serve all our customers well. OpenAI employees are extremely impressive, as you might have guessed, and mission-driven in the extreme. And it's clear that the process and communications around Sam's removal has been handled very badly, which has seriously damaged our trust.

I have a three point plan for the next 30 days:

- Hire an independent investigator to dig into the entire process leading up to this point and generate a full report.

- Continue to speak to as many of our employees, partners, investors, and customers as possible, take good notes, and share the key takeaways.

- Reform the management and leadership team in light of recent departures into an effective force to drive results for our customers.

Depending on the results everything we learn from these, I will drive changes in the organization — up to and including pushing strongly for significant governance changes if necessary. I will be rolling these out as they become clear over the 30 day period. OpenAI's stability and success are too important to allow turmoil to disrupt them like this. I will endeavor to address the key concerns as well, although in many cases I believe it may take longer than a month to achieve true progress.

I have nothing but respect for what Sam and the entire OpenAI team have built. It's not just an incredible research project and software product, but an incredible company. I'm here because I know that, and I want to do everything in my power to protect it and grow it further.

It's now 1am and I'll pick this up tomorrow.

PS: I am posting this here both because I think it's in the general public interest to know in this case, but please don't expect all future internal comms to come through a public channel.

PPS: Before I took the job, I checked on the reasoning behind the change. The board did *not* remove Sam over any specific disagreement on safety, their reasoning was completely different from that. I'm not crazy enough to take this job without board support for commercializing our awesome models.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated to note that Altman and Brockman are headed to Microsoft to lead a new research unit, and with Shear's post about taking the job.

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