Race to reinstate Sam Altman as OpenAI CEO reaches impasse

A group of OpenAI executives and investors racing to have Sam Altman reinstated as CEO has reached an impasse over the composition and role of the board, according to people familiar with the negotiations. The decision to restore Altman’s role as CEO could come quickly, although discussions are fluid and still ongoing.

At midday Sunday, Altman and former president Greg Brockman were at the startup’s headquarters, according to sources familiar with the matter.

OpenAI executives pushing the board to resign and reinstate Altman include interim CEO Mira Murati, chief strategy officer Jason Kwon and chief operating officer Brad Lightcap, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions.

Altman, who was fired Friday, is open to returning but wants to see changes in governance, including the removal of current board members, said the people, who asked not to be identified because negotiations are private. After facing intense pressure following the decision to fire Altman on Friday, the board agreed in principle to step down, but has so far declined to do so officially. The trustees reviewed candidates for new trustees.

At the center of the high-stakes negotiations between executives, investors and the board is Microsoft Satya Nadella, CEO of Corp. Nadella led the negotiations between the different factions, some of the people said. Microsoft is OpenAI’s largest investor, with $13 billion invested in the company.

Bret Taylor, former co-CEO of Selling power Inc., will be part of the new board, several people said. Another possible addition is an executive from Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, but it is unclear whether the software giant will serve on the board despite its significant investment, some of the people said.

The chaos began on Friday, when administrators led by OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever fired Altman, saying “he was not always candid in his communications with the board.” In a memo to staff Saturday, Lightcap said the decision to fire the CEO “was not made in response to any wrongdoing” or the company’s financial or security practices.

Altman’s ouster “came as a surprise to all of us,” Lightcap said in the memo, adding that “we have had several conversations with the board to try to better understand the reasons and process behind their decision.”

A long-standing issue that divided the company was Altman’s desire to turn OpenAI, which began as a nonprofit, into a successful business — and how quickly he wanted it to company launches products and signs up customers. That clashed with board members’ concerns about the security of artificial intelligence tools that can generate text, images and even computer code with minimal input.

Altman is keeping his options open, according to people familiar with his thinking, and wants to return to OpenAI, start a new company or both.

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