Efforts to bring back Sam Altman as the CEO of OpenAI have hit a roadblock over disagreements about the board’s composition and role, according to sources familiar with the negotiations. While a resolution could be reached soon, the talks are still ongoing and subject to change.
Sources reveal that Altman, who was fired last Friday, is open to returning but has certain demands. He wants to see changes in governance, including the removal of current board members. Additionally, he is seeking a statement that clears him of any wrongdoing. Initially, the board had agreed in principle to step down after facing public outrage over Altman’s removal, but they have yet to do so officially. The board has been considering potential candidates for new directors.
Notably, key leaders within OpenAI, such as Interim CEO Mira Murati, Chief Strategy Officer Jason Kwon, and Chief Operating Officer Brad Lightcap, are also pushing for the board’s resignation and Altman’s reinstatement.
The campaign to reinstate Altman gained momentum shortly after his firing, when the board, led by OpenAI Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever, dismissed Altman and stripped him of his director role, citing inconsistent communication with the board. In protest, President Greg Brockman, who was also removed from the board, resigned later that day.
One of the long-standing issues that divided the company was Altman’s focus on transforming OpenAI from a nonprofit organization into a profitable business. However, this clashed with the board’s concerns about the safety of AI tools capable of generating text, images, and code with minimal prompting.
Prior to Altman’s dismissal, the board consisted of Altman, Brockman, Sutskever, Quora Inc. CEO Adam D’Angelo, tech entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Helen Toner, director of strategy at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology.
There are indications that negotiations may be nearing a resolution, as Altman and Brockman were seen at OpenAI’s San Francisco headquarters. Altman later posted an image of himself at the offices, wearing a guest badge, suggesting progress. Altman’s leverage in the negotiations is strengthened by his loyal employees, particularly top research scientists who contribute to OpenAI’s language models, including the ChatGPT chatbot.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has played a central role in the negotiations due to Microsoft’s significant investment in OpenAI. Bret Taylor, former co-CEO of Salesforce, is expected to join the new board, while a Microsoft executive may also be considered, pending regulatory concerns.
Altman has been involved in other business ventures while awaiting the outcome of negotiations, including fundraising for a chipmaking startup and an AI-focused hardware device.
In a memo to staff, Chief Operating Officer Brad Lightcap emphasized that Altman’s dismissal was not due to wrongdoing or financial and safety issues. The decision has surprised the company, and they have been engaging with the board to understand the reasons behind it.