OpenAI Reinstates Sam Altman To Board Of Directors

Sam Altman, OpenAI’s CEO and public figurehead for the entire artificial intelligence (AI) community, has been appointed to the board of directors at the AI pioneer.

The appointment last week of Altman, and three women, to OpenAI’s board, came after the conclusion last Friday of an external investigation into the brief firing and then reinstatement of Sam Altman in November 2023 by the previous non-profit board of directors.

The firing and reinstatement of Altman is also being investigated by the US financial regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which recently said it was examining Sam Altman’s internal communications to see whether he had misled investors.

Sam Altman. Image credit: OpenAI

Altman firing

The previous non-profit board of directors at OpenAI had shocked the tech world last November, when Sam Altman was suddenly fired for alleged lack of candor in his communications with the board.

The board at the time said that Sam Altman had been fired after an internal review found he “was not consistently candid in his communications with the board”.

OpenAI co-founder and former president Greg Brockman, immediately resigned in solidarity with Altman.

The Altman firing shocked the tech world, as well as notable OpenAI investors including Microsoft, Tiger Global, Thrive Capital and Sequoia Capital – all of which publicly lobbied for Altman to return to OpenAI.

When negotiations between OpenAI’s board and Altman failed, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella announced that both Altman and Brockman would be joining Redmond.

Image credit: Sam Altman/X

The software giant also continued to express its displeasure at OpenAI’s then board and called for a change of governance at the firm, with reports suggesting it was offering jobs to all OpenAI staff.

Then it emerged that 743 out of 770 staff at OpenAI had threatened to resign en masse, after they signed a letter demanding that Altman and Brockman return to their positions at the firm and that the current board resign, or else they will move over to Microsoft.

Days later Sam Altman was reinstated as CEO, and a new board of directors was appointed.

Parting shot

OpenAI then appointed outside law firm WilmerHale to look into what led the old board to abruptly fire Altman in November.

After months of investigation, it concluded that Altman’s ouster was a “consequence of a breakdown in the relationship and loss of trust” between him and the prior board, OpenAI said in a summary of the findings Friday.

The full report was not released.

However, in a parting shot, two board members who had voted to fire Altman before getting pushed out themselves wished the new board well but said accountability is paramount when building technology “as potentially world-changing” as what OpenAI is pursuing.

“We hope the new board does its job in governing OpenAI and holding it accountable to the mission,” a joint statement from ex-board members Helen Toner and Tasha McCauley was reported by the Associated Press. “As we told the investigators, deception, manipulation, and resistance to thorough oversight should be unacceptable.”

Board appointments

“We have unanimously concluded that Sam and Greg are the right leaders for OpenAI,” stated Bret Taylor, Chair of the OpenAI Board.

“I’m pleased this whole thing is over,” Altman was quoted by the Associated Press as telling reporters Friday.

Altman added that he was been disheartened to see “people with an agenda” leaking information to try to harm the company or its mission and “pit us against each other.”

At the same time, he reportedly aid he’s learned from the experience and apologised for a dispute with a former board member he could have handled “with more grace and care.”

OpenAI confirmed that Sam Altman will rejoin the Board of Directors, as well as three women, namely:

  • Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, former CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and 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 and on the Board of Directors at Paramount Global, Meira GTx, and Intuitive Machines, Inc.
  • Fidji Simo, CEO and Chair of Instacart and on the Board of Directors at Shopify
Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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