Sam Altman is back at the helm as CEO after a chaotic weekend-long fiasco for OpenAI

Satya Nadella with Sam Altman at a conference
(Image credit: Bullfrag)

What you need to know

  • Sam Altman has just been reinstated in the position of CEO of OpenAI.
  • Altman is eager to return to work, citing that Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella fully supports the decision.
  • Altman and Nadella confirmed that they are committed to ensuring that the partnership between both companies remains successful.

OpenAI's weekend-long fiasco seems to have come to an end after the company issued a statement via X (formerly Twitter) announcing the reinstatement of Sam Altman as the company's CEO with a new initial board of Bret Taylor (Chair), Larry Summers, and Adam D'Angelo.

Altman seems to also agree, at least according to his post, stating:

"i love openai, and everything i’ve done over the past few days has been in service of keeping this team and its mission together. when i decided to join msft on sun evening, it was clear that was the best path for me and the team. with the new board and w satya’s support, i’m looking forward to returning to openai, and building on our strong partnership with msft." (sic)

How did things get so bad at OpenAI?

OpenAI Microsoft sinking under water

(Image credit: Windows Central)

The majority of the tech industry has been hit by massive layoffs, predominantly due to the harsh economic times. I'd bet very few people thought OpenAI would be one of the companies that would be affected by this issue, owing to Microsoft's hefty multi-billion investment and its "immense" success in the space.

However, this turned for the worse over the weekend at OpenAI after its board of directors fired Sam Altman over his leadership skills. A move that left a bad taste among his colleagues, who quickly penned down a letter to the board addressing the issue and requesting them to reinstate Altman from his position.

This continued to spiral out of control when their demands weren't met, which prompted more than 500 to threaten to leave the company, citing that "OpenAI is nothing without its people." All this while, Microsoft had already reached out to Altman and offered him a position to lead the Advanced AI team at the company alongside former OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman.

OpenAI stood to lose more of its employees to Microsoft. According to sources with close affiliations with the company, Microsoft had confirmed that there are open positions for OpenAI staffers at the subsidiary should they also decide to leave the company. According to a spot by Axios, Microsoft has been busy preparing its LinkedIn offices in San Francisco (a stone's throw away from OpenAI's head office) for all the OpenAI employees who could potentially join the firm.

However, Altman's return to OpenAI doesn't seem like a huge surprise. While speaking to CNBC earlier this week, Microsoft CEO Sam Altman could not give a straightforward answer when asked about the OpenAI fiasco and where things stood. Nadella responded that he was exactly where he was on Friday morning before things started unfolding. Perhaps an indication that nothing had changed over that period and that Altman could potentially make his way back to OpenAI.

Do you think this will affect the Microsoft/OpenAI partnership? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Kevin Okemwa

Kevin Okemwa is a seasoned tech journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya with lots of experience covering the latest trends and developments in the industry at Windows Central. With a passion for innovation and a keen eye for detail, he has written for leading publications such as OnMSFT, MakeUseOf, and Windows Report, providing insightful analysis and breaking news on everything revolving around the Microsoft ecosystem. You'll also catch him occasionally contributing at iMore about Apple and AI. While AFK and not busy following the ever-emerging trends in tech, you can find him exploring the world or listening to music.

  • fjtorres5591
    Of course the relationship changed: OpenAI itself is changed.

    Its schizoid structure exploded and the conflict between techie "true believers" and doomsters got settled in favor of the former. OpenAI is now a standard silivalley startup paying lip service to idealist "serving humanity instead of investors". (Like google's infamous "do no evil" pretense.

    This was inevitable from the moment the company invited investor money, the staff received stock options, and an IPO was floated. The "golden rule" of silivalley prevailed: thems that put up the money rule.

    The new board will be strongly (if not totally) dominated by industry players, including the sole holdover (who is himself headed out the door soon enough if rumors prove true). The company charter will shortly be amended and "capped profit" ditched, almost certainly.

    As to MS, whether hiring Altman was a ploy or not, they came out ahead: they are back at last thursday with OpenAI as a "captive suppler" or, in gaming terms, "second party" developer but with clear and direct power over its future. And, come the IPO they can either pickup the next 1% of stock or sell off a portion of the investment for big gains.

    Regardless, they keep OpenAI separate enough to avoid more DC regulator angst and be safely insulated from any fallout from future soap operas of which there will be many, no doubt: the board was not the only source of doomsters in the company and they won't all quit. There's that IPO carrot, albeit delayed now.

    A tour de force of corporate politics from Nadella.