On Nov. 17, the artificial intelligence (AI) startup OpenAI made the shock announcement that it had fired CEO Sam Altman — and reaffirmed that decision on Nov. 19 with the hiring of Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear as its new CEO.
In the days between, the tech world reeled, Altman’s colleagues rallied to his side, then-OpenAI president and co-founder Greg Brockman also quit, and OpenAI’s board of directors held talks to possibly reinstate Altman while facing enormous public backlash from shareholders and employees.
Here’s what’s happened so far.
Thursday, Nov. 16
Ilya Sutskever schedules call with Altman
According to an X (formerly Twitter) post from Brockman, OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever sent Altman a message on Thursday evening to schedule a meeting for Friday afternoon.
Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today.— Greg Brockman (@gdb) November 18, 2023
Let us first say thank you to all the incredible people who we have worked with at OpenAI, our customers, our investors, and all of those who have been reaching out.
We too are still trying to figure out exactly…
Additionally, he claimed that OpenAI chief technology officer Mira Murati was made aware that Altman would be fired that evening.
Friday, Nov. 17
Brockman notified Altman was fired
Just after midday on Nov. 17, Brockman said Sutskever texted him, asking him to jump on a call. After joining the call a few minutes later, he was informed he was being removed from OpenAI’s board of directors but would maintain his role as president and that Altman had been fired.
OpenAI publicly says Altman is out
OpenAI announces leadership transition https://t.co/fFYDLwGXQz— OpenAI (@OpenAI) November 17, 2023
Microsoft issues statement on OpenAI
Microsoft, the largest investor and partner in OpenAI, issued a statement concerning Altman’s ousting, with CEO Satya Nadella trying to calm the market’s nerves and offer reassurance that Altman’s axing would have no major impact on the partnership moving forward.
“We have a long-term agreement with OpenAI with full access to everything we need to deliver on our innovation agenda and an exciting product roadmap, and remain committed to our partnership, and to Mira and the team.”
Following the public announcement of Altman’s departure, Brockman announced his own resignation.
Resignations pile up
In the wake of Brockman’s resignation, a number of senior OpenAI executives followed suit, with the company’s head of preparedness, Aleksander Madfry, and director of research, Jakub Pachocki, announcing their respective resignations.
Saturday, Nov. 18
Shock firing was surprise to management
OpenAI chief operating officer Brad Lightcap said that the announcement took the entire management team by surprise, per an internal memo seen by Axios on Nov. 18.
“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. This was a breakdown in communication between Sam and the board.”
Altman eyes new venture
Media company The Information reported on Nov. 18 that Altman had already begun discussing a new AI-related venture with investors. Brockman is expected to join Altman in whatever endeavor he moves forward with.
Microsoft “furious” at Altman’s outing, pushes board to bring him back
Bloomberg reported on Nov. 18 that Microsoft’s CEO, Nadella, was “furious” with the decision and began pushing the board to consider reinstating Altman as CEO.
Board agrees to reconsider Altman’s position
The Verge reported on Nov. 18 that OpenAI’s board “had agreed in principle” to resign and bring back both Altman as CEO and Brockman as president.
Multiple sources claimed Sutskever’s “integral role” in Altman’s firing, suggesting there was a hotbed of tension between the nonprofit and for-profit sides of the company.
Sunday, Nov. 19
Altman at OpenAI ahead of decision deadline
Altman posted a picture to X on Nov. 19 at OpenAI’s headquarters with a guest badge, as the deadline for a decision regarding his reinstatement as CEO was set for 5 pm PST.
first and last time i ever wear one of these pic.twitter.com/u3iKwyWj0a— Sam Altman (@sama) November 19, 2023
Bringing back Altman as CEO may require the board to issue an apology as well as a statement that frees him of wrongdoing, sources told Bloomberg.
Microsoft eyes board seat as insiders push for Altman’s return
The Information reported on Nov. 19 that Microsoft is eyeing either a board seat or a board observer role without voting power if Altman returns. Bloomberg reported earlier that OpenAI’s top brass is pushing for Altman to return, including interim CEO Murati, chief strategy officer Jason Kwon, and COO Lightcap.
Former Twitch head Emmett Shear hired as new OpenAI CEO
The Information reported late on Nov. 19 in the United States that the board of directors was unwilling to make a compromise and instead selected Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear as the new CEO, while interim CEO Murati was planning to reinstate both Altman and Brockman in their respective roles at the company.
So, here's what happened at OpenAI tonight. Mira planned to hire Sam and Greg back. She turned Team Sam over past couple of days. Idea was to force board to fire everyone, which they figured the board would not do. Board went into total silence. Found their own CEO Emmett Shear— Ashlee Vance (@ashleevance) November 20, 2023
Monday, Nov. 20
Satya Nadella onboards Sam Altman into Microsoft’s AI research team
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella decided to hire the former OpenAI team members, CEO Sam Altman and president Greg Brockman to lead a new advanced AI research team.
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
Shortly after the announcement from Nadella, Altman retweeted the post saying, “the mission continues” inferring his commitment to the progress of AI technology.