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The OpenAI saga reminded me of the times when Steve Jobs was fired from Apple Inc., a company that he founded with Steve Wozniak in 1976.
When I learned about this incident, it made me wonder if that was even possible. Can a person who created the company, from the ground up, be fired? Call me naive at the time, but I was genuinely confused.
Well, the same thing happened with OpenAI, the company responsible for ChatGPT and Dalle3, where Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, was fired.
Why? How? Let’s start from the beginning.
CEO/Founder of OpenAI Fired
It all started with a blog post published on Friday, November 17, 2023, and shared via the official Twitter (now X) handle from OpenAI, where they announced a leadership change.
The man (“Sam Altman”) responsible for revolutionizing AI all over the world and made it cool, empowered the common man with the ability to create and build things, was being removed (read, fired) from the position of the CEO. The board appointed Mira Murati as interim CEO.
The reason, however, didn’t make any sense at all.
No one seemed to know what or why this happened. The specifics of the concerns OpenAI’s board had with Sam Altman remain undisclosed.
It’s not surprising that X and Reddit pages were flooded with speculation regarding the possible reasons for such an abrupt decision, which was conveyed in a tone that, in the business world, is the equivalent of “Et tu, Brute?”
However, the gravity of the situation is underscored by the board’s decision to take action before the closing of the markets, indicating a level of seriousness that couldn’t wait for the usual business protocols.
Altman then publicly responded on X about this time at OpenAI and how he enjoyed working there along with the talented people.
Greg Brockman, the co-founder and president of the company, was also being removed from the board, and as a result, he announced his departure on X, saying, “based on today’s news, I quit.”
Not only Brockman, but three other senior OpenAI researchers — Jakub Pachocki, Aleksander Madry, and Szymon Sidor — also announced their resignations from the company.
Brockman then followed up with another post in which he shared his version of how Altman was fired.
The Chaotic Weekend
Saturday was a complete mess. The investors and employees started demanding an explanation for the sudden decision taken by the board. You see, Microsoft has invested heavily in OpenAI, with as much as $13 billion. Obviously, Microsoft envisioned OpenAI with Sam Altman at its helm.
And of course, Microsoft, and other big investors asked the OpenAI board to reverse their decision and bring Altman back to the CEO position. An agreement was drafted that would bring Altman and Brockman back to the company, and the current board would resign. However, the deal wasn’t closed that day.
This made the OpenAI employees anxious. Guess what? 505 of the 700 employees asked the board to resign.
The employees even said that they would leave the company.
Satya Nadella Comes to the Rescue
Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, was seeing all the chaos from the sidelines. He knew that the sudden announcement of the firings of Sam Altman and Greg Brockman would definitely provoke all the employees and investors at Microsoft.
Just a few days before, Microsoft, at their annual Microsoft Ignite 2023 event, announced a number of plans that he had promised, and the event was quite a success. Hence, Satya would never let Sam Altman and Greg Brockman go anywhere else, apart from Microsoft.
First things first, Satya announced that Altman and Brockman will be joining Microsoft to lead a “new advanced AI research team.” He also invited all the employees to be part of Microsoft’s new subsidiary.
Satya also reassured that the partnership with OpenAI would remain intact and even supported Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear, who was appointed as the new CEO of OpenAI.
This was a master stroke, in my opinion.
Satya Nadella gained everyone’s respect for how he tackled this crisis and took a literally split-second decision to set up this “new advanced AI research team,” whatever that means.
I am sure he must have consulted with his team and his board at Microsoft. This just spooked the OpenAI board members.
Sam Altman Returns as the CEO
Shortly after these announcements of Microsoft’s new AI wing, Ilya Sutskever, the OpenAI co-founder and chief scientist who allegedly started the whole issue, apologized.
A petition was signed by Sutskever and hundreds of OpenAI employees, demanding that the OpenAI board of directors step down.
However, on November 22, 2023, OpenAI posted on X that Sam Altman was officially back as CEO and that the vast majority of the board of directors was gone. Greg Brockman also returned.
Altman also posted his return on X.
All’s Well That Ends Well!
It is still unclear why Altman was fired in the first place, and the way things unfolded, it indicated that the board basically could not trust him.
Satya Nadella, on the other hand, made Microsoft one of the most reliable companies in years, and Microsoft’s stock price went high when he announced to hire everyone in OpenAI.
Over the next few weeks, OpenAI launched their much-talked-about GPT store, and Microsoft launched their Copilot Pro plans.
And yes, Sam Altman got married. Well, all’s well that ends well. Isn’t it?