Sam Altman rejoins OpenAI board, company adds three new members

OpenAI on Friday announced its new board and the wrap-up of an internal investigation by U.S. law firm WilmerHale into the events leading up to OpenAI CEO Sam Altman’s ouster.

Sam Altman will also rejoin OpenAI’s board.

The new board members are:

  • Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, former CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who is also on the Board of Directors at Pfizer and on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
  • Nicole Seligman, former EVP and Global General Counsel of Sony and President of Sony Entertainment, who is also on the Board of Directors at Paramount Global, Meira GTx and Intuitive Machines, Inc.
  • Fidji Simo, CEO and Chair of Instacart, who is also on the Board of Directors at Shopify.

The three new members will “work closely with current board members Adam D’Angelo, Larry Summers and Bret Taylor as well as Greg, Sam, and OpenAI’s senior management,” according to a release.

OpenAI will continue to expand the board moving forward, according to a Zoom call with reporters.

OpenAI did not publish the investigation report but provided a summary of the findings.

“The review concluded there was a significant breakdown of trust between the prior board and Sam and Greg,” Taylor said, adding that the review also “concluded the board acted in good faith… [and] did not anticipate some of the instability that led afterwards.”

Taylor also said the board’s concerns did not arise regarding concerns over product safety and security, OpenAI’s finances or statements to customers or business partners, that it was “simply a breakdown in trust between the board and Mr. Altman.”

WilmerHale’s investigation began in December, and the lawyers submitted their report today, which included dozens of interviews with OpenAI’s prior board members and advisors, current executives and other witnesses. The investigation also involved reviewing more than 30,000 documents, according to a release.

“We have unanimously concluded that Sam and Greg are the right leaders for OpenAI,” Bret Taylor, chair of OpenAI’s board, said in a release.

“I am very grateful to Bret and Larry and WilmerHale,” Altman said on the Zoom call with reporters. He added, speaking of CTO Mira Murati, “Mira in particular is incremental to OpenAI all the time … but through that period in November, she has done an amazing job helping to lead the company.”

He added that he is “excited to be moving forward here” and for the situation to be “over.” He also mentioned he wished he had acted differently regarding differences in opinion with the board.

In November, OpenAI’s board ousted Altman, prompting resignations – or threats of resignations – including an open letter signed by virtually all of OpenAI’s employees, and uproar from investors, including Microsoft. Within a week, Altman was back at the company, and board members Helen Toner, Tasha McCauley and Ilya Sutskever, who had voted to oust Altman, were out. Adam D’Angelo, who had also voted to oust Altman, stayed on the board.

When Altman was asked about Sutskever’s status on the Zoom call with reporters, he said there were no updates to share.

“I love Ilya… I hope we work together for the rest of our careers, my career, whatever,” Altman said. “Nothing to announce today.”

Since then, OpenAI has announced new board members, including former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. Microsoft obtained a nonvoting board observer position.

After ChatGPT’s launch in November 2022, it broke records at the time as the fastest-growing consumer app in history, and now has about 100 million weekly active users, along with more than 92% of Fortune 500 companies using the platform, according to OpenAI. Last year, Microsoft invested an additional $10 billion in the company, making it the biggest AI investment of the year, according to PitchBook, and OpenAI has reportedly closed a deal that will allow employees to sell shares at an $86 billion valuation, though the deal reportedly took longer to close than expected due to the events surrounding Altman’s ouster.

The rollercoaster couple of weeks at the company are still affecting it months later.

This month, billionaire tech magnate Elon Musk sued OpenAI co-founders Sam Altman and Greg Brockman for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty, court filings revealed on Thursday.

In his complaint, Musk and his attorneys allege that the ChatGPT maker “has been transformed into a closed-source de facto subsidiary of the largest technology company in the world: Microsoft.” They also argue that this arrangement goes against a founding agreement and 2015 certification of incorporation that OpenAI established with Musk, who was a pivotal donor to a cofounder of OpenAI in its early years.

As part of Microsoft’s contract with OpenAI, the tech giant only has rights to OpenAI’s “pre-AGI” technology, and it is up to OpenAI’s board to determine whether the company has reached that milestone. Musk argued in his filing that since the OpenAI board shuffle in November – when Toner, McCauley and Sutskever were removed – the new board is “ill-equipped” to independently determine whether OpenAI has reached AGI and therefore whether its technology is outside the scope of the exclusivity deal with Microsoft.

Lawyers told CNBC that they had doubts about the legal viability of Musk’s case, and OpenAI has said it plans to file a motion to dismiss all of Musk’s claims.

In response to the high-profile lawsuit, OpenAI reproduced old emails from Musk in which the Tesla and SpaceX CEO encouraged the rising startup to raise at least $1 billion in funding, and agreed that it should “start being less open” over time and “not share” the company’s science with the public.

Musk’s lawsuit also follows some controversy over Altman’s previous chip endeavors and investments.

Just before Altman’s brief ouster, he was reportedly seeking billions for a new and not-yet-formed chip venture code-named “Tigris” to eventually compete with Nvidia, traveling to the Middle East to raise money from investors.

In 2018, Altman personally invested in an AI chip startup called Rain Neuromorphics, based near OpenAI’s San Francisco headquarters, and in 2019, OpenAI signed a letter of intent to spend $51 million on Rain’s chips. In December, the U.S. compelled a Saudi Aramco-backed venture capital firm to sell its shares in Rain.

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