Nov 29, 2023 - Technology

OpenAI formalizes Sam Altman's return, gives Microsoft non-voting board seat

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Photo Illustration of Sam Altman with the openai logo

Photo Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

OpenAI announced Wednesday that it has finalized the arrangements that will see Sam Altman return as CEO and give key partner and investor Microsoft a non-voting seat on the company's board.

Why it matters: The move resolves the immediate uncertainties around the non-profit company and its leadership, but other questions remain open.

Details: Under the deal, detailed in memos and a post by OpenAI, former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor will be OpenAI chairman, joined initially on the board by former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Quora CEO Adam D'Angelo.

  • Co-founder Ilya Sutskever will exit the board and his future with the company remains uncertain. Sutskever voted to oust Altman before changing direction and helping push for his return.
  • "I love and respect Ilya, I think he's a guiding light of the field and a gem of a human being," Altman said in a memo, seen by Axios. "I harbor zero ill will towards him. While Ilya will no longer serve on the board, we hope to continue our working relationship and are discussing how he can continue his work at OpenAI."
  • Greg Brockman, who was removed as OpenAI board chairman when Altman was fired and who quit the company soon after, is also returning to his previous role as the company's president.
  • Mira Murati, who briefly served as interim CEO after Altman's firing, will return to her previous role as OpenAI's CTO.

What they're saying: Altman said in the memo that the company is focused on three tasks: Ensuring safety, continuing to build products and expanding its board.

  • "I am extremely grateful for everyone's hard work in an unclear and unprecedented situation, and I believe our resilience and spirit set us apart in the industry," Altman said in the memo to staff.
  • The memo thanked staff, board members and others who helped resolve the conflict, including interim CEO Emmett Shear, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Taylor sent his own memo, also seen by Axios, in which he pledged to help OpenAI recruit a "qualified, diverse Board of exceptional individuals whose collective experience represents the breadth of OpenAI's mission — from technology to safety to policy."

  • Taylor, who left Salesforce to start his own AI effort, does not plan to remain on OpenAI's board long term.
  • "As I have communicated to board colleagues and management, when these transitional tasks have been completed, I intend to step away and leave the oversight of OpenAI in the good hands of board colleagues," he said in a post on X.

Catch up quick: The board abruptly ousted Altman on Nov. 17, prompting a revolt from employees and investors.

  • After more than 95% of employees threatened to quit — and Microsoft said it would hire them, along with Altman — the board agreed in principle to bring Altman back as CEO, along with a new board.
  • The outgoing board did secure a commitment for an independent investigation into both Altman's conduct and the events leading up to his ouster.
  • They also retained one spot on the new board, with Quora co-founder Adam D'Angelo continuing to serve.

Go deeper: Our timeline traces the epic (and still-unfolding) saga.

Editor's note: This story is breaking news and will be updated.

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