Sam Altman, OpenAI Board Open Talks To Negotiate His Possible Return

Sam Altman and members of the OpenAI board have opened negotiations aimed at a possible return of the ousted co-founder and chief executive officer to the artificial intelligence company, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Sam Altman
Sam Altman

Sam Altman, members of the OpenAI board and the company’s interim chief executive officer have opened negotiations aimed at a possible reinstatement of the ousted CEO at the artificial intelligence startup he co-founded, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Discussions are happening between Altman, CEO Emmett Shear and at least one board member, Adam D’Angelo, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private and they may not come to fruition. The talks also involve some of OpenAI’s investors, many of whom are pushing for his reinstatement, one of the people said.

Emmett ShearPhotographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Emmett ShearPhotographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

If Altman returns, it would be as CEO of the company, according to one person. In one scenario being discussed, Altman would become a director on a transitional board, one of the people said. Former Salesforce Inc. co-CEO Bret Taylor could also serve as a director on a new board, multiple people said.

That the board and Altman are in communication is a significant development because until Monday, the directors largely refused to engage with the executive they fired Friday, several people have said. 

OpenAI shareholders angling for Altman’s reinstatement include Thrive Capital, Khosla Ventures and Tiger Global Management, people with knowledge of the matter told Bloomberg. Prominent venture capital firm Sequoia Capital is working alongside the group, another person said.

On Monday, the company’s Vice President of Global Affairs Anna Makanju sent a memo to staff saying the company had been in “intense discussions” with the board, Altman and Shear to unify the company. The message came after the majority of employees threatened to quit if Altman were not reinstated, among other demands.

Read more: OpenAI Leaders Tell Staff to ‘Get Back to Shipping’ Amid Turmoil

There is a push to resolve the chaos surrounding the company’s leadership before Thanksgiving, said one person, in the hope that employees don’t spend the holiday with uncertainty looming about the state of their jobs. 

WATCH: Sam Altman and members of the OpenAI board have opened negotiations.Source: Bloomberg
WATCH: Sam Altman and members of the OpenAI board have opened negotiations.Source: Bloomberg

The board has come under intense scrutiny for its decision to fire Altman, saying that the CEO was not “consistently candid in his communications.” In the days since, board members and staffers have said that the CEO’s removal was unrelated to “malfeasance” or “safety,” leaving an information vacuum. Satya Nadella, CEO of OpenAI’s largest investor Microsoft Corp., has said publicly that he has been given no explanation.

What Bloomberg Intelligence Says

“A potential return of Sam Altman as OpenAI’s CEO will likely strengthen Microsoft’s strategic positioning, especially if it’s able to procure a seat on the new board. This could also be the preferred outcome for Microsoft, given a high legal risk if it hires a majority of OpenAI employees. We see little to no likelihood that Microsoft will buy OpenAI amid ongoing regulatory hurdles.

— Anurag Rana and Andrew Girard, analysts

Click here for the research.

Even CEO Shear has been left in the dark, according to people familiar with the matter. He has told people close to OpenAI that he doesn’t plan to stick around if the board can’t clearly communicate to him in writing its reasoning for Altman’s sudden firing. 

Until Friday, the company’s board consisted of Altman, President Greg Brockman, Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever, Quora Inc. CEO D’Angelo, tech entrepreneur Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner, director of strategy at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology. After Altman’s exit, Brockman left the company in protest.

In his negotiations with the board, Altman is being represented by Airbnb Inc. CEO Brian Chesky, while Shear is representing D’Angelo and the board, people with knowledge of the matter said. Taylor, who also served as a board member at Twitter before it was bought by Elon Musk, is playing more of a neutral role in mediations, the people said.

OpenAI declined to comment on the negotiations. 

--With assistance from Shirin Ghaffary and Katie Roof.

(Updates with negotiations representatives in penultimate paragraph.)

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