OpenAI has ‘full confidence’ in CEO Sam Altman after investigation, reinstates him to board

OpenAI is reappointing CEO Sam Altman to its board of directors, saying it has “full confidence” in his leadership following an outside investigation into the turmoil that led the company to abruptly fire and rehire him in November.

OpenAI said the investigation by law firm WilmerHale concluded that Altman’s ouster was a “result of a breakdown in the relationship and loss of trust” between Altman and the previous board.

The ChatGPT creator also said it has added three women to its board of directors: Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellman, a former CEO of the bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Nicole Seligman, former general counsel of Sony; and Instacart CEO Fidji Simo.

The actions are a way for the San Francisco-based artificial intelligence company to show investors and customers that it is trying to move past the internal conflicts that nearly destroyed it last year and made global headlines.

“I’m glad this whole thing is over,” Altman told reporters Friday, adding that he was disheartened to see people leaking information in an effort to “turn us against each other” and demoralize the team. At the same time, he said he had learned from the experience and apologized for a dispute with a former board member that he could have handled “with more grace and care.”

For more than three months, OpenAI said little about what led its then-board of directors to fire Altman on November 17. An announcement that day said Altman “was not consistently forthcoming in his communications” in a manner that hindered the board’s ability to carry out its responsibilities. He was also removed from the board, along with the chairman, Greg Brockman, who responded by quitting his job as president of the company.

Many of the conflicts at OpenAI are rooted in its unusual governance structure. Founded as a non-profit organization with a mission to safely build futuristic AI that helps humanity, it is now a fast-growing major corporation that is still governed by a non-profit board bound by its original mission.

The investigation found that the previous council acted within its discretionary authority. But it also determined that Altman’s “conduct did not require removal,” OpenAI said. It said both Altman and Brockman remained the right leaders for the company.

“The review concluded that there was a significant breach of trust between the previous board and Sam and Greg,” Bret Taylor, chairman of the board, told reporters Friday. “And similarly, he concluded that the board acted in good faith, that the board believed at the time that actions would alleviate some of the challenges it saw and that it had not anticipated some of the instability.”

Days after his surprise resignation, Altman and his supporters – with the support of most of OpenAI’s workforce and close business partner Microsoft – helped orchestrate a comeback that returned Altman and Brockman to their executive positions and board members Tasha McCauley, Helen Toner and Ilya expelled from their positions. Sutskever, although he retained his job as chief scientist.

Altman and Brockman did not regain their board seats at that time. But an “initial” new board of three men was formed, led by Taylor, a former Salesforce and Facebook executive who was also chairman of Twitter’s board before Elon Musk took over the platform. The others were former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, the only member of the previous board to remain.

(Both Quora and Taylor’s new startup, Sierra, operate their own AI chatbots that rely in part on OpenAI technology.)

OpenAI retained the WilmerHale law firm to investigate the events leading to Altman’s ouster. During the investigation, OpenAI said WilmerHale conducted dozens of interviews with the company’s previous board, current executives, advisors and other witnesses. The company also said the law firm reviewed thousands of documents and other company actions.

The board said it will also make “improvements” to the company’s governance structure. It said it will adopt new corporate governance guidelines, strengthen the company’s policy on conflicts of interest, create a whistleblower hotline to allow employees and contractors to file anonymous reports and establish additional board committees.

The company continues to face other problems, including a lawsuit filed by billionaire Elon Musk, who helped fund OpenAI’s early years and co-chaired its board after its founding in 2015. Musk claims the company is betraying its founding mission in the pursuit of profit.

Legal experts have raised doubts about whether Musk’s arguments, centered around an alleged breach of contract, will hold up in court.

But it has already exposed the company’s internal conflicts over its unusual governance structure, how “open” it should be about its research and how to pursue what’s known as artificial general intelligence, or AI systems that are just as can perform well like – or even better than – people in a wide variety of tasks.


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