OpenAI CEO Sam Altman Resumes Board Role Amid New Appointments, Probe Conclusion

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has been cleared of any wrongdoing and has been reinstated to the company's board.
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Hours after publishing this week’s issue of “The AI Economy,” breaking news came out from OpenAI. The company wrapped up its internal investigation of what happened last November when board members removed CEO Sam Altman from his post. In this special newsletter, we’ll cover the report’s findings and the new board members joining the company.

The Prompt

OpenAI found itself in turmoil around the Thanksgiving holiday last year. Without warning, the company fired Altman. According to the board, he “was not consistently candid” with it. However, that decision triggered a revolt, pitting the three board members against company employees.

▶️ This Flipboard Storyboard provides a curated timeline of what happened

In the end, Altman is reinstated, and as part of the negotiations, alterations are enacted within OpenAI’s board. Helen Toner, Tasha McCauley, and company Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever are ousted, whereas Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo retains his position.

Full Support and Report Findings

OpenAI launched an internal probe in December with the help of law firm WilmerHale. Four months later, after interviewing board members, advisors, current executives and other witnesses and parsing through 30,000 documents, the board says it’s confident in Altman and president Greg Brockman.

“We have unanimously concluded that Sam and Greg are the right leaders for OpenAI,” company chairperson Bret Taylor declared.

Among the findings in the report:

  • Altman’s firing did not arise out of concerns relating to OpenAI’s product safety or security, the pace of development, company finances or statements made to investors, customers or business partners
  • The cause of the perceived coup was a “breakdown in the relationship and loss of trust between the prior board and [Altman]”
  • The prior board moved fast to fire Altman, without providing advance notice to stakeholders and without providing an opportunity for Altman to address any concerns
  • The prior board acted within its discretion to fire Altman, but the probe determined his conduct did not mandate removal

Reconstituted Board

With the probe complete, Altman regained his board seat. Joining him are three new members, including Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the former CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a former Facebook board member (2013 to 2019); Nicole Seligman, former executive and Global General Counsel of Sony; and Fidji Simo, the CEO and chairperson of Instacart.

These four are in addition to Taylor, D’Angelo and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.

Rumblings surfaced about the fate of Sutskever: Would he be reinstated? OpenAI did not say anything, though Altman reportedly said on a press call that “Ilya is awesome” and “I hope we work together for the rest of our careers.”

Is there space for more board members? It’s unlikely, given that OpenAI has typically had a maximum of seven seats filled. Based on current tallies, there are three women and four men overseeing the artificial intelligence startup.

Turning the Page

The WilmerHale report seems to conclude a rough patch in OpenAI’s history. Altman said he was glad for the situation to be “over” and expressed excitement about being able to move forward. However, have the underlying issues that led the prior board to take action been resolved? Unfortunately, the report offers little transparency here.

But, in the hopes of avoiding a repeat of history, OpenAI’s board adopted a few enhancements to its governance structure. This includes establishing a whistleblower hotline for all employees and contractors and creating additional board committees including one focused on the implementation and advancement of the company’s core mission.

Overall, Altman maintains his leadership, leaving employees content and investors excited that his vision will continue shaping the future of AI.

End Output

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