OpenAI Board Says Sam Altman Won’t Return as CEO

The board of OpenAI, the high-profile artificial intelligence startup, said in a note to employees Sunday evening that its former boss Sam Altman would not be returning to work, while also naming his second interim successor in two days.

Emmett Shear, the former CEO of Twitch, will replace Mira Murati as interim CEO of OpenAI, the board said. Ms. Murati, a longtime OpenAI executive, was appointed to the position after Mr. Altman’s ouster on Friday. The board said Mr. Shear has a “unique mix of skills, expertise and relationships that will advance OpenAI,” according to the memo seen by The New York Times.

“The Board stands firmly by its decision as the only way to advance and defend OpenAI’s mission,” the memo said, referring to Mr. Altman’s dismissal from the company on Friday. It was signed by each of the four directors on the company’s board; Adam D’Angelo, Helen Toner, Ilya Sutskever and Tasha McCauley.

“Simply put, Sam’s conduct and the lack of transparency in his interactions with the board undermined the board’s ability to effectively oversee the company in the manner assigned to it,” the memo said.

But just hours after OpenAI announced that Mt. Altman would not be returning, there was another groundbreaking move: Microsoft said it would hire Mr. Altman and Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s president and co-founder of the company Solidarity with Mr. Altman had terminated. The two men will lead an advanced research lab at Microsoft.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also left room for other unnamed colleagues to join the two Microsoft co-founders.

“We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources they need to succeed,” Mr. Nadella said said in a post to X, formerly known as Twitter.

A Microsoft spokesman declined further comment beyond Mr. Nadella’s post to X.

Mr. Altman’s firing spooked the tech industry and OpenAI’s investors, which include Microsoft, Sequoia Capital and Thrive Capital. Microsoft, which has invested more than $13 billion in OpenAI, learned of Mr. Altman’s exit only a minute before the announcement, while other investors learned on social media that he had been forced out. They received no further information or updates over the weekend.

The departure of Mr. Altman, 38, also highlighted a divide in the AI ​​community: between people who believe AI is the most important new technology since web browsers and others who fear it could be dangerous to move too quickly to move forward to develop them. In particular, Mr. Sutskever was concerned that Mr. Altman was too focused on building the OpenAI business while not paying enough attention to the dangers of AI

The board’s decision to fire Mr. Altman came as a shock to industry allies and rank-and-file employees who supported the charismatic founder. Silicon Valley investors and technology executives expressed their support for Mr. Altman and Mr. Brockman. On Friday evening, Mr. Altman pitched a new AI startup to investors and planned to co-found the company with Mr. Brockman.

Since OpenAI released its successful chatbot ChatGPT nearly a year ago, artificial intelligence has captured the public’s imagination with the hope that it could be used for important tasks such as drug discovery or teaching children. But some AI scientists and political leaders worry about the risks involved, such as automating jobs or autonomous warfare beyond human control.

OpenAI has been at the center of this discussion, along with its former CEO, who has done more than anyone else to make artificial intelligence a mainstream topic in the last year.

The board did not cite any specific incidents involving Mr. Altman as a reason for his removal. Rather, it alleged that Mr. Altman had “lost the trust of the Board” and that his removal was “necessary to preserve the Board’s ability to carry out its responsibilities and advance the mission of this organization.”

“It is paramount that every CEO be honest and transparent with their board,” the memo said.

OpenAI, Mr. Altman, and Microsoft, OpenAI’s largest investor, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The AI ​​company has an unusual governance structure. It is controlled by the board of a nonprofit organization, which can decide how the company is run, and its investors have no formal ability to influence decisions.

Some OpenAI employees vowed to leave OpenAI or join Mr. Altman’s new potential venture if the board does not relent. But even as Mr. Altman made his offer for a new company, investors pushed for the return of Mr. Altman and Mr. Brockman.

Throughout the weekend, Mr. Altman and his supporters put pressure on OpenAI’s board with objections from venture capitalists, other technology executives and employees. Three people said Microsoft led the charge and smaller investors expressed concerns about Microsoft.

The effort, the people said, was intended to show the company’s board how popular Mr. Altman was among OpenAI employees and throughout Silicon Valley.

The lack of details about the reasons for Mr. Altman’s downfall emboldened his supporters. Some argued that OpenAI’s nonprofit board could no longer support the company OpenAI had become – a company with 700 employees, numerous customers and corporate partnerships that was on track to reach $1 billion in annual revenue achieve.

Mr. Altman, Mr. Brockman and Mr. Sutskever founded OpenAI in 2015 along with nine others, including Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive. The group founded the AI ​​lab as a nonprofit organization and said that unlike Google and other tech giants, it is not driven by commercial incentives.

After Mr. Musk parted ways with OpenAI in 2018, Mr. Altman turned the lab into a for-profit company controlled by the nonprofit and its board. Over the next few years, he raised the billions of dollars the company would need to develop technologies like ChatGPT.

Before joining OpenAI, Mr. Shear led Twitch through its transformation from an emerging platform called Justin.tv to a behemoth that was acquired by Amazon in 2014. He stuck with it after the tech giant took over and only left the company earlier this year, when he said he had a child.

Mr. Shear, a longtime video gamer, was considered a competent leader on Twitch but had his critics. It seemed like he was too focused on cutting costs and turning the loss-making website into a more profitable business.

“We apologize for the abruptness of the process we felt was necessary given the situation,” the board said in its memo. “While we understand the questions this raises, we continue to believe our actions were necessary.”

Kellen Browning, Karen Weise, Erin Griffith and Tripp Mickle contributed reporting.


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