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Timeline of OpenAI's dramatic firing and rehiring of CEO Sam Altman

Anwesha Singha
New Update
Sam altman firing and rehiring

Sam Altman, co-founder and CEO of OpenAI who is widely regarded as the leader of the booming artificial intelligence revolution, On 17th November, a Friday afternoon, Sam Altman was abruptly fired from his position as CEO of OpenAI.

In response, a letter was signed by 500 OpenAI employees, including co-founder and board member Ilya Sutskever, calling for the resignation of the remaining board members or else they would leave.

Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, announced on 20th November that Altman and Greg Brockman will be joining Microsoft to establish a new advanced AI research team, where he will have the title of CEO.

Who is Sam Altman?


Sam Altman is an entrepreneur and investor who has made significant contributions to the field of artificial intelligence.

He co-founded and was the CEO of OpenAI, a non-profit research company working on developing safe and beneficial artificial intelligence. Altman also co-founded Hydrazine Capital, a venture capital firm investing in early-stage startups.

Altman's career started when he co-founded Loopt, a location-based social networking service, as a teenager. In 2012, Green Dot Corporation acquired Loopt for $43.4 million.

In 2014, Altman became president of Y Combinator, a startup accelerator that has helped launch some of the world's most successful companies, including Airbnb, Dropbox, and Stripe. Altman served as president of Y Combinator until 2019 when he co-founded OpenAI with Elon Musk, Ilya Sutskever, and others.

Altman’s dismissal

OpenAI, the startup behind the popular generative AI chatbot ChatGPT, issued a statement about Altman's dismissal, stating that he was under official review, that he had hidden material from the business board, and that he was sacked after the board felt they had lost trust in him.

It went on to state, "The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI."

Altman's dismissal has enraged current and former employees, who are concerned about how the abrupt management change may affect an upcoming $86 billion share sale, according to Reuters.

Why was Sam fired in the first place? 

Over the past few days, OpenAI, one of the world's leading AI organizations, has undergone a significant leadership shakeup.

It began with a seemingly routine text message between the Chief Scientist, Ilya Sutskever, and Sam Altman, discussing a call to be scheduled for Friday noon. However, this message was just the beginning of a series of events that would shake the organization to its core.

Mira Murati, OpenAI's CTO and now interim CEO, was informed of the impending decision to fire Altman. The decision was then communicated to Altman via a chat on Google Meet, marking a digital dismissal that was ironic given OpenAI's pioneering role in AI.

Shortly after, Greg Brockman, the President of OpenAI, received a text from Sutskever informing him of his removal from the board and Altman's firing. Despite this, Brockman was reassured of his valued contribution to the team.

An all-hands meeting was held where Sutskever defended the decision, calling it a "hostile takeover" and a necessity for OpenAI's mission. However, the fallout continued with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella releasing a statement affirming their commitment to OpenAI, despite the shocking leadership changes.

This was followed by Brockman's resignation and the departure of three senior researchers. Altman and Brockman's reactions were of shock, but they assured everyone that they would be fine.

On 18th November, an internal memo by OpenAI COO Brad Lightcap expressed management's surprise and clarified that the decision wasn't related to any transgression. By Saturday afternoon, the narrative took another turn with news of discussions to rehire Altman.

“I deeply regret my participation in the board's actions. I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we've built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company. “ Tweeted Ilya on X   

Even Elon Musk took to X and replied to Ilya” Why did you take such a drastic action?”

This 48-hour rollercoaster was more than just corporate reshuffling; it was a telling sign of the deep ideological rifts within one of the world's most influential AI organizations.

Altman subsequently published tweets heaping praise on the remaining OpenAI leaders and said he looked forward to continuing to work together “some way or other”

Given what Altman, 38, had accomplished in a few short years, the turbulence at OpenAI stunned the tech world. While computer titans like Google have been striving for years to build artificial intelligence, OpenAI jumped miles ahead of the tech giants last November when it introduced ChatGPT to the world. 

Chatgpt displayed abilities never before revealed to the general public, such as the ability to write much more like a person. ChatGPT immediately gained 100 million users, assisting OpenAI in raising billions of dollars, sending Google reeling, and putting AI at the center of the tech industry. It also made Altman a superstar overnight, making him a visionary in the field of AI.

On Friday night 17th November, Kara Swisher shared insights on the matter by posting a series of Twitter threads, based on her own analysis and information gathered from insiders within the company. According to her sources, the disagreement arose due to conflicting views between those who prioritized profit and those who valued safety. 

The issue of the developer day was also a point of contention, with some feeling that the company's profit-driven direction and fast-paced development were too risky. While some considered it a "coup", others viewed it as the right move. 

Although rumors have been circulating within the tech community, it is important to separate fact from fiction. Apparently, the chief scientist Ilya Sutskever played a crucial role in the matter by garnering the board's support after tensions increased between him and Sam Altman and Greg Brockman over their respective roles and influence.

The board members who opposed Altman felt that he was being manipulative and stubborn and that he was doing things his own way. The board had a lot to talk about but they just one fine day decided to fire the CEO without any prior explanations.

Over the weekend that is on Sunday morning 19th November, Brad Lightcap, the COO of OpenAI, informed the company's employees that they were still in discussions with the board to understand why Sam Altman was fired.

Lightcap clarified that the board's decision was not due to any wrongdoing or any concerns related to OpenAI's finances, business, safety, or security/privacy practices. Instead, he explained that it was a miscommunication issue between Altman and the board.

In response to the situation, Greg Brockman announced that he would hire an independent investigator to investigate the entire process leading up to Altman's termination. Brockman had been unable to obtain written documentation regarding the board's reasoning for dismissing Altman.

Microsoft, which owns around 49% of OpenAI, was taken aback by the company's decision last week and hastened to appoint Altman to run a new AI branch within the software giant. Former OpenAI President Greg Brockman and numerous other members of the startup resigned in protest of the previous OpenAI board's decision.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced on Wednesday that he, along with his team, will be working towards establishing a new company. He expressed his disappointment with the OpenAI board's decision last week and pledged to ensure that Microsoft is never "surprised" again.

OpenAI's previous board, which included chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, independent directors D'Angelo, technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Helen Toner of the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology, faced intense public scrutiny for their abrupt decision, for which they never provided a comprehensive explanation.

Growing dissatisfied with the previous OpenAI board, numerous OpenAI investors began considering legal action against the board members, according to Reuters as of 21st November.

Emmett Shear, the former Twitch CEO who was named interim leader of OpenAI on Sunday 19th November, expressed satisfaction with the latest decision. "When I first joined OpenAI, I wasn't sure what the best path would be. This was the path that maximized safety while also doing the right thing by all those concerned. "I'm glad I could contribute to the solution."

Amid the ongoing controversy over control of OpenAI, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff wanted to take advantage of the crisis and threw offers at the company's AI researchers. 

In a bid to woo the OpenAI researchers, Benioff offered to match their cash and equity to join his company's Einstein AI research team and even suggested that these researchers could send their CVs directly to him.

Benioff even went to the trouble of responding directly to posts on Twitter from OpenAI employees threatening to join Microsoft if the board didn't resign. One of OpenAI employees, Steven Heidel wrote in a post on X, “happy to join Microsoft, still not using teams though.

The Salesforce CEO, in an attempt to win the disconcerted OpenAI employee, said that the employee won't have to use Microsoft Teams at Salesforce and can use Slack for their meetings instead.

In a banter, steven heidel gave a hilarious response to Mr Benioff's offer. "Listen, I love Slack but the company that builds Tableau isn't going to build AGI."

Altman joins Microsoft with no plans of coming back to OpenAI

Former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman joined Microsoft, along with former President Greg Brockman, the tech giant revealed on Monday (Nov 20), following a few days of upheaval in the corporate world. This comes just days after Altman was let go by OpenAI.

On Monday (November 20), Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella took to X to announce the appointment of Altman and other members of his team. 

Altman, along with Brockman and his colleagues, "will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team," according to Nadella.

Notably, Microsoft recently changed its search engine Bing Chat, an AI-powered chatbot, to 'Copilot' after integrating OpenAI's ChatGPT. 

According to The Information, Altman and Brockman went to Open AI's San Francisco headquarters on Sunday (Nov 19) after being invited by interim CEO Mira Murati. Murati intended to re-hire her ousted predecessor, according to multiple media reports.

The former CEO of a major artificial intelligence corporation uploaded a photo of himself clutching a guest ID pass at the company's headquarters with the statement, "First and last time I ever wear one of these."

Following this, a new surfaced that claimed Altman would not return to the company as CEO, despite efforts by corporate leaders to bring him back. 

Rehiring of Altman and team

On 17th November after Altman’s sudden termination around 500 OpenAI employees which accounts for 65% of the company threatened the board of directors of resignation if Altman is not rehired. 

After all of the controversy and internal conflict unfolded finally OpenAI gave in and on 22nd November they announced the homecoming of CEO and co-founder Sam Altman, along with Greg Brockman.

OpenAI also confirmed that they have reached an agreement that a new initial board will be established consisting of Bret Taylor (Chair), Larry Summers, and Adam D'Angelo, CEO of Quora.

Also, Altman expressed his enthusiasm for OpenAI and his commitment to keeping the team and its mission together, despite his recent decision to join Microsoft. 

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