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Thursday, November 30, 2023

OpenAI Board Urged by Microsoft, Investors to Restore Altman

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The biggest investors of OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, are pressing the company to reinstate Sam Altman as chief executive officer after the board’s stunning decision to fire him on Friday, according to a report by Bloomberg.

Microsoft Corp., the startup’s biggest backer with a more than $10 billion stake, is working with investors including Thrive Capital and Tiger Global Management to bring back Altman, said the people, who asked to remain anonymous discussing private information.

As part of the effort to reinstate the CEO, investors are also pressing for the replacement of the current board, the people said. The directors have considered stepping down, though they’re currently balking at such a move, the people said.

The situation is fluid and final plans have not been set. If the board steps down, investors are reviewing a list of possible new directors. One contender is Bret Taylor, the former co-CEO of Salesforce Inc.

The OpenAI board has been subjected to intense criticism over its decision to remove Altman, which came as a surprise to both investors and to Altman himself.

Over the years he pushed hard to change the company from a nonprofit to a commercially successful business and was the driving force behind new tools that have revolutionized the way people complete tasks from homework to coding.

His ouster did not sit well with the firms that backed OpenAI.

In a statement on X, formerly Twitter, venture capitalist Vinod Khosla said that his firm wanted Altman “back at OpenAI but will back him in whatever he does next.”

Forbes and the Verge earlier reported some details of the campaign to reinstate Altman.

In a memo to OpenAI staff on Saturday, Chief Operating Officer Brad Lightcap said Altman’s ousting “was not made in response to malfeasance” or the company’s financial or safety practices.

The decision to force Altman out, he said, “took us all by surprise,” and he has since spoken with the board to better understand its decision.

“This was a breakdown in communication between Sam and the board,” Lightcap wrote, adding that Microsoft “remains fully committed” as an investor.

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