Since Friday last week, we’ve seen perhaps the biggest drama unfold in tech in decades. A surprise announcement from the OpenAI board declared that Sam Altman – AI’s current poster boy – will no longer serve as the CEO of the company. Since then, the ChatGPT creator has seen two new CEOs back to back, all in the span of a weekend.
The events were something that seemed straight out of the drama TV series Succession, and things are still so fast-moving that it’s almost too difficult to keep track of them. However, we’ve put together a timeline to keep you in the loop about the high-profile weekend.
1. OpenAI fires Sam Altman
It all started with OpenAI’s board of directors announcing that Sam Altman would step down as CEO, replaced by the company’s CTO Mira Murati on an interim basis. In the announcement, the board stated that after “a deliberative review process,” it found Altman wasn’t “candid in his communications with the board” and that they no longer have confidence in his ability to continue to lead OpenAI.
Later that day, the board also said that Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s president, “will be stepping down as chairman of the board and will remain in his role at the company, reporting to the CEO.”
To this, Brockman said in a post on X that he and Altman were “shocked and saddened by what the board did.” Meanwhile, Altman acknowledged that he was leaving OpenAI but said nothing about the board’s accusations, instead stating that he “will have more to say about what’s next later” with a post on the same platform.
i 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.
will have more to say about what’s next later.
— Sam Altman (@sama) November 17, 2023
Following the news, shares of Microsoft – which is the largest backer and most important partner of OpenAI – dipped, closing the day down 1.7%.
2. OpenAI COO addresses Altman’s firing in memo to employees
On Saturday following the initial announcement, OpenAI COO Brad Lightcap addressed the firing of Sam Altman in a brief message to employees. The memo that was obtained by CNBC stated that Lightcap had multiple conversations with the board to understand their decision.
“We can say definitively that the board’s decision was not made in response to malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices,” he wrote. He added that there was a “breakdown in communication” between Altman and the board.
“Our collective responsibility right now is to our teammates, partners, users, customers, and the broader world who shares our vision of broadly beneficial AGI. Hang in there, we are behind you all 1000%.”
3. “OpenAI is nothing without its people”
The drama continued the next day, with three of OpenAI’s senior researchers resigning. Both company investors and employees pushed to reinstate Altman and Brockman, and a deadline of 5 PM PT was set on Saturday for this, which the remaining board members missed.
The next day saw an outpouring of support for Altman from OpenAI employees with many of them taking to X saying that “OpenAI is nothing without its people.” A number of employees also responded with hearts to another post by Altman that stated “i love the openai team so much.”
— Sam Altman (@sama) November 20, 2023
The investors and employees were joined by Microsoft, Tiger Global, and venture firm Thrive Capital – again OpenAI’s top backers – in their efforts to bring back Altman.
4. Sam Altman arrives as guest at OpenAI HQ
The pressure seemed to be working as Sam Altman arrived as a guest on Sunday at OpenAI HQ in San Francisco, US, indicating that talks were underway. The ousted CEO posted a photo of himself on X wearing an OpenAI visitor badge captioning it with “first and last time i ever wear one of these.”
first and last time i ever wear one of these pic.twitter.com/u3iKwyWj0a
— Sam Altman (@sama) November 19, 2023
5. Microsoft suddenly hires Altman
However, come Monday Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced on X that Sam Altman, Greg Brockman, and other colleagues will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team. “We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success,” Nadella said. As part of this new arrangement, Altman will have a CEO title within Microsoft. Altman responded to the post with a rather cryptic remark: “the mission continues.”
We remain committed to our partnership with OpenAI and have confidence in our product roadmap, our ability to continue to innovate with everything we announced at Microsoft Ignite, and in continuing to support our customers and partners. We look forward to getting to know Emmett…
— Satya Nadella (@satyanadella) November 20, 2023
On the same day, Twitch co-founder Emmet Shear took to X to announce that he got a call inviting him to “consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to become the interim CEO of OpenAI. He also added that an independent investigator will “dig into the entire process leading up to this point and generate a full report.”
Around the same time, Satya Nadella told CNBC in an interview that the governance structure of OpenAI needs to change. “At this point, I think it’s very clear that something has to change around the governance,” Nadella said. Aside from this, the Microsoft CEO dismissed concerns of long-term damage at OpenAI, saying that AI research continues as does its partnership with Microsoft.
6. OpenAI employees issue ultimatum to board
A letter signed by around 667 OpenAI employees (out of the total of about 770 employees), including its co-founder and board member Ilya Sutskever, has issued an ultimatum to the remaining board members of OpenAI asking them to either step down from their positions or face a mass exodus of OpenAI staff to Sam Altman’s new venture at Microsoft, NBCNews reported.
The letter accused the board members of being “incapable of overseeing OpenAI” and says that their actions have made this clear. It also revealed that Microsoft has “assured” the signatories that they would be welcome to join the new subsidiary that Altman is creating, if they “choose to join.”
Among the signatories are some of the most senior executives of OpenAI including Mira Murati and Brad Lightcap. Meanwhile, OpenAI co-founder Ilya Sutskever stated on X that he “deeply regrets” his participation in the firing of Sam Altman, adding that he will do “everything” to reunite the company.