- During a meeting with employees, OpenAI’s Ilya Sustkever offered two explanations for the ousting of CEO Sam Altman.
- The explanations involved statements he made to the board regarding personnel.
- Employees didn’t buy these reasons. Most of the company is now prepared to quit.
OpenAI‘s current independent board has offered two examples of the alleged lack of candor that led them to fire co-founder and CEO Sam Altman, sending the company into chaos.
Late Sunday night, Ilya Sutskever introduced to staff Emmett Shear, the former Twitch CEO, who was named OpenAI new interim CEO, replacing his predecessor of two days Mira Murati, who herself had replaced Altman on Friday. The brief meeting was held at one of OpenAI’s San Francisco offices, and only a handful of the company’s employees attended, according to a person familiar with the company and the events of Sunday. The rest of the staff effectively staged a walk-out. The Verge also reported the meeting took place.
Staff had spent the day expecting to be told of the reinstatement of Altman as CEO. Over a roughly 30-minute period on Sunday night, staff was told internally that Altman was returning, then that he wasn’t, then that Shear had been appointed, another person familiar with the matter said. The people asked for anonymity because they are not authorized to share internal matters. Their identities are known to Business Insider.
As staff learned of Shear’s appointment, most took the news “extremely poorly,” one of the people said. It was yet another shock to employees, who had been on tenterhooks all weekend.
It was left to chief scientist and co-founder Sutskever, who helped vote Altman out and did the actual firing of him over Google Meet, to deliver the news of Shear’s arrival. Sutskever appeared “subdued” during the meeting, one of the people said.
Staff, along with tech industry observers, had wondered for days what was behind the harshly worded statement from OpenAI that said Altman “was not consistently candid in his communications with the board.”
Sustkever is said to have offered two explanations he purportedly received from the board, according to one of the people familiar. One explanation was that Altman was said to have given two people at OpenAI the same project.
The other was that Altman allegedly gave two board members different opinions about a member of personnel. An OpenAI spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
These explanations didn’t make sense to employees and were not received well, one of the people familiar said. Internally, the going theory is that this was a straightforward “coup” by the board, as it’s been called inside the company and out. Any reason being given by the board now holds little to no sway with staff, the person said.
A few hours after that meeting, an open letter was drafted, circulated among staff overnight, and signed by OpenAI leadership including Murati and Sutskever, in which they protested the board’s decision to not bring Altman back. By mid-day Monday, it had been signed by over 90% of the employees, according to the latest count.
In the letter, employees insisted they would resign if remaining members of board did not, if new board members were not appointed, and if Altman was not returned to the company.
At the moment, Altman is said to still be negotiating a possible return while he has an interim position at Microsoft, orchestrated by CEO Satya Nadella. Microsoft is OpenAI’s largest investor, with at least $10 billion put into the company.
“People are raging mad and mass quitting is imminent,” one of people familiar with the situation said.
The company’s current board is made up of Adam D’Angelo, CEO of Quora; Tasha McCauley, a tech entrepreneur; Helen Toner, of the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology; and Setskever. Although Sutskever also signed the open letter threatening to leave the company, he is said to still technically be a member of the board. Altman and Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s president, were also previously on the board.
Although Murati was a source of anger for many employees soon after Altman’s ouster, given that she was his initial replacement and was said to have known he was being removed the day prior, that sentiment has cooled.
She is said by the people familiar to have “deferred” constantly to Sutskever in the immediate aftermath of Friday. Now that she’s decided to leave the company should Altman not return, along with Sutskever, who also publicly expressed his “regret” for taking part in the board’s move against Altman, some wonder if all these top players could continue to work with the OpenAI team and leadership elsewhere. Others, however, believe that Sutskever won’t be easily forgiven and won’t be invited to stay, or join a new venture at Microsoft.
Are you an OpenAI employee or someone with a tip or insight to share? Contact Kali Hays at email@example.com, on secure messaging app Signal at 949-280-0267, or through Twitter DM at @hayskali. Reach out using a non-work device.