No 'Malfeasance': The Firing Of Sam Altman, And How OpenAI Desperately Wants Him Back


Sam Altman, the man behind OpenAI, the company which created ChatGPT, which is the very product that sent the tech industry into a frenzy, that even strikes fear into Google's heart.

Altman is indeed quite the wonder boy.

After co-founding the startup incubator Y Combinator and later joined OpenAI, Altman has since contributed to advancements in AI, and dedicated pretty much everything towards the technology.

His insights to the AI field are truly impressive.

Then one day, suddenly without prior notification, Altman was fired.

Sam Altman
Sam Altman.

Sam Altman, the high-profile chief executive, has a name that is already synonymous with OpenAI.

The man is the face of the tech industry’s AI boom,.

He led the company from zero, to become one of the fastest-growing companies ever, and with a valuation of around one hundred billion dollars.

Altman was one of the only a handful of tech CEOs that have met White House leaders, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as other government leaders to talk about AI.

Altman was an overnight quasi-celebrity due to how fast the world is awed by OpenAI's products.

For these reasons, news about him fired becomes one of most unexpected tech news of the year.

His stunning departure deliberately sent shockwaves through the budding AI industry.

Later, it's said that Altman was fired from an apparent vote of no confidence by the company's board.

Altman’s "departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities," said the company in in an announcement.

"The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI."

In other words, an internal investigation found that Altman was not always truthful with the board.

The news follows OpenAI’s first developer conference held in San Francisco, where Altman served as the master of ceremonies, unveiling GPT-4 Turbo, new AI tool updates, including the ability for developers to create custom versions of ChatGPT.

At the time, he also shared about 2 million developers now use the platform, and about 90% of Fortune 500 companies are using the tools internally.

OpenAI announced Mira Murati, the company’s chief technology officer, will serve as interim CEO until a permanent successor is chosen.

In a tweet following the news, Altman said he “loved my time at openai.”

"it was transformative for me personally, and hopefully the world a little bit. most of all i loved working with such talented people," he said. “ [...] will have more to say about what’s next later."

When people began speculating, it's reportedly said that it was due to a disagreement between Altman and OpenAI’s co-founder, Ilya Sutskever, over the direction of the company.

After all, Altman has long been an advocate of AI, and its biggest critics.

Sometimes, he preaches about how the technology could be useful to humanity but sometimes, he also seemed to be a doomsday prepper.

"Is [AI] gonna be like the printing press that diffused knowledge, power, and learning widely across the landscape that empowered ordinary, everyday individuals that led to greater flourishing, that led above all to greater liberty?" he said. "Or is it gonna be more like the atom bomb – huge technological breakthrough, but the consequences (severe, terrible) continue to haunt us to this day?"

Altman's departure was followed by other of his senior colleagues, who also resigned.

They include Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s president, and three senior researchers: Jakub Pachocki, Aleksander Mądry and Szymon Sidor.

But mere days after his firing, according to a leaked memo, the OpenAI board is having second thoughts about Altman’s firing and is optimistic about bringing him back.

Former OpenAI President Greg Brockman, who quit OpenAI over Altman’s firing, is expected to join any effort to bring Altman back.

After all, even though the board members wish Altman out, their influence towards the company is nothing compared to investors who invested billions into the company.

One of which, is Microsoft, which has made a multi-year deal worth billions of dollars.

In a statement by Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft said said the partnership would keep "AI safety front and center” so that “everyone can benefit.”

Sam Altman and Microsoft' CEO, Satya Nadella
Sam Altman and Microsoft' CEO, Satya Nadella.

Following Altman's firing, Microsoft’s stock price slid 1.6% on Friday and fell about another 1% in afterhours trading.

Upon hearing the news, Nadella was reportedly “furious,” and has been in touch with Altman and pledged to support him. Some key venture capital backers of OpenAI are said to be contemplating a lawsuit against the board.

Not only those that are backers of OpenAI that show support, because even rivals are fond of him. One example, is Eric Schmidt.

In a tweet, the former Google CEO called Altman "a hero of mine.”

"He built a company from nothing to $90 billion in value, and changed our collective world forever," Schmidt said.

"I can’t wait to see what he does next. I, and billions of people, will benefit from his future work- it’s going to be simply incredible. Thank you [Altman] for all you have done for all of us."

It's said that Altman responded to OpenAI's request to have him back, by saying that he's "ambivalent" about returning. But he is considering it as long as OpenAI gets a new board and governance structure as a precondition, all while he balances the option of starting a new company with former OpenAI colleagues.

Read: Microsoft Invests $1 Billion In OpenAI To Build 'Supercomputer AI'

Later, Sam Altman is returning as CEO of OpenAI, overcoming an attempted boardroom coup that sent the company into chaos. Former president Greg Brockman, who also quit in protest of Altman’s firing, is also returning.

And as promised, the company said that it has an "agreement in principle" for Altman to return alongside a new board.

Microsoft, which has long been the biggest investor of OpenAI, wants to have a seat on that expanded board, as does Altman himself.

And during a press tour, Satya Nadella said the company didn’t want any more "surprises."

On November 30, the drama is finally over, and OpenAI made an official statement that Sam Altman is back as CEO.

"Mira Murati as CTO and Greg Brockman as President. OpenAI has a new initial board," said the company in a post on X.