Being Fired Can Be So Painful That 'I Wouldn't Wish It On An Enemy'

Sam Altman
CEO of OpenAI, former president of Y Combinator

An employee being fired is one thing, but being a CEO and a co-founder of a company being fired is totally different.

Sam Altman is the posterchild of the tech industry. After founding OpenAI and becoming its CEO, the only way the company is going is up.

From its various products, most notably the formidable ChatGPT, the company is one of the fastest-growing companies in the world, as it continues to awe and wow users in many industries.

Altman is an icon, a respective figure, an influential person to say the least, and even offered Indonesia's first free Golden Visa.

But the company's board had another in mind, which led to Altman losing his job.

Sam Altman
Sam Altman.

What happened was a boardroom coup, which can be described as a sudden and often unexpected takeover or transfer of power of an organization or company.

In this case, the coup is performed against Altman by the board, because the board of directors at the time said that they had lost "confidence in his [Altman] ability" to lead and that he was "not consistently candid in his communications."

But the move failed.

Without Altman, a near-mass exodus happened, and that it even angered Microsoft, which has been one of the company's biggest backers.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, poached Altman to lead a new AI research team at Microsoft, and that 95% of OpenAI employees threatened to jump ship if Altman wasn't brought back.

Without Altman, the company was literally like a decapitated giant, which walks clumsily without a head, as its body parts slowly falling apart.

Without Altman, the company is falling.

In a week of around-the-clock negotiations, the company had two interim CEOs, but still walk blindly.

Just like what had happened to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who also experienced a boardroom coup, Altman was reinstated.

And the whole process was personally painful.

"It's been extremely painful for me personally, but I actually think it's been great for OpenAI."

"I wouldn't wish it on an enemy. But it did have an extremely positive effect on the company."

Regardless, Altman considered this experience as "a real moment of growing up" for the company.

Altman briefly discussed the saga on an episode of Bill Gates' podcast, "Unconfuse Me."

While the bulk of the episode was recorded before Altman was dismissed as OpenAI's CEO, but a short clip at the start featured him and Gates catching up again later to address the corporate drama.

"It's been so crazy. I'm alright. It's a very exciting time."

"A lot of people have remarked on the fact that the team has never felt more productive or more optimistic or better," he added. "And so I guess that's like the silver lining of all of this. In some sense, this was like a real moment of growing up for us. We are very motivated to become better and to become a company ready for the challenges in front of us."

Sam Altman
Sam Altman married his male partner, becoming the wife of Oliver Mulherin, in an intimate ceremony in Hawaii.

In addition to running the world’s leading AI company, Altman is committed to several ambitious projects.

For example, he works with Jony Ive, Apple Inc.’s former lead designer, to put AI models into new hardware devices. He also hired another former Apple executive for his other company, where he plans to create AI chips to compete with the ludicrous trillion-dollar market, with eyes on its leader Nvidia Corp.

To ensure both of these project run smoothly, billions of dollars is needed.

Altman, who just got married to a programmer, has sought funding from those with the deepest pockets, including Masayoshi Son and Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds.

At the same time, Altman has also been running Worldcoin, a blockchain-based project that aims to scan the eyeballs of billions of people.