On Friday, OpenAI’s board of directors announced that Sam Altman is stepping down as CEO. Mira Murati, the technology chief, will take over temporarily.
The board conducted a thorough review and found that Altman wasn’t consistently open in his communications with them, making it difficult for them to fulfill their responsibilities. The statement mentioned that the board has lost confidence in his ability to lead OpenAI.
The board includes chief scientist Ilya Sutskever and independent directors like Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Helen Toner from the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology. OpenAI emphasizes that its 501(c)(3) board is the main governing body for all OpenAI activities.
The board also mentioned that Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s president, “will step down as chairman of the board but will continue in his position at the company, reporting to the CEO.”
Who is Mira Murati?
Murati, who has a degree in mechanical engineering from Dartmouth College, previously worked as an intern at Goldman Sachs and then at Zodiac Aerospace, the French aerospace group. She spent three years at Tesla as a senior product manager of the Model X, the automaker’s crossover SUV, during which Tesla released early versions of Autopilot, its AI-enabled driver-assistance software.
In 2016, Murati joined Leap Motion, a startup building hand- and finger-tracking motion sensors for PCs, as VP of product and engineering. Murati wanted to make the experience of interacting with a computer “as intuitive as playing with a ball,” she told Fast Company in an interview. But she soon realized that the tech, which relied on a VR headset, was too early.
In 2018, Murati came to OpenAI as VP of applied AI and partnerships. After being promoted to CTO in 2022, she led the company’s work on the viral AI-powered chatbot ChatGPT, the text-to-image AI DALL-E and the code-generating system Codex, which powers GitHub’s Copilot product.
OpenAI Leadership, Altman’s Departure and Murati’s Appointment
In a post on X on Friday, Sam Altman confirmed his departure from OpenAI. However, he didn’t address the board’s accusation of not being forthright during unspecified reviews. Altman expressed his love for working at the company and mentioned that he would share more about “what’s next” later.
Concerning the appointment of Murati, OpenAI stated, “Given her leadership in the company’s research, product, and safety functions, Mira is highly qualified to take on the role of interim CEO. We have full confidence in her ability to lead OpenAI during this transition.”
OpenAI, which secured substantial funding from Microsoft and claimed the top spot on CNBC’s Disruptor 50 list this year, gained widespread attention in late 2022 with the public release of its AI chatbot, ChatGPT. This service became viral as it allowed users to transform plain text into engaging conversations, prompting major tech companies like Alphabet and Meta to increase their investments in generative AI.
Following the announcement, Microsoft’s stock declined, ending the day 1.7% lower at $369.84.
A spokesperson from Microsoft stated that the company has a lasting partnership with OpenAI, expressing commitment to Mira and her team as they usher in the next phase of AI for customers.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, in a post on X, discussing the “long-term agreement with OpenAI,” said that the company’s dedication to the partnership and to Mira and her team. However, Nadella did not touch upon Altman’s departure.
Brockman also posted on X, sharing the message he sent to his former OpenAI colleagues, informing them that he “resigned” upon learning about “today’s news.”
Later in the evening, in another X post, Brockman expressed that both he and Altman were “shocked and saddened by the board’s actions today.”
Inside OpenAI’s Leadership Unraveling
According to Brockman’s X post, Sutskever initiated a virtual meeting attended by the rest of the OpenAI board, excluding Brockman. It was during this meeting that Sutskever purportedly informed Altman of his termination, stating that “the news was going out very soon,” as written by Brockman.
In less than half an hour, Brockman reported receiving a text message from Sutskever, the chief scientist, requesting another virtual meeting. During this meeting, Brockman learned about Altman’s dismissal and his removal from OpenAI’s board. However, he was assured that he remained “vital to the company and would retain his role.”
Brockman stated in the post, quickly followed by a separate message from Altman, that, “As far as we know, the management team was made aware of this shortly after, other than Mira who found out the night prior.”
In an X post, Altman described the day as a “weird experience in many ways,” highlighting the unexpected aspect of feeling like he was “reading your own eulogy while you’re still alive.”
In another post on X, Altman stated, ‘If I begin to deviate, the OpenAI board should pursue me for the entire value of my shares.'”
Founded in 2015 as a nonprofit, OpenAI appointed Sutskever as research director and Brockman as chief technology officer. Initial investors in the company included notable figures from Silicon Valley such as Altman, Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn co-founder), and Elon Musk (Tesla CEO), who reportedly pledged $1 billion to support the project.
Before becoming CEO, Sam Altman served as the president of the startup accelerator Y Combinator and gained recognition in Silicon Valley as an early-stage investor. Earlier in his career, he founded the social networking company Loopt.
As OpenAI gained popularity, especially with the success of ChatGPT this year, Altman’s prominence also increased.
Altman’s Big Year as OpenAI’s CEO
In September, Indonesia granted Altman the “Golden Visa,” which offers him various travel benefits and perks for the next 10 years, aiming to attract more foreign investors to the country.
During the summer, Altman visited multiple Asia-Pacific countries, including Singapore, India, China, South Korea, and Japan. He engaged with government leaders, officials, and delivered public speeches addressing the rise of AI and the importance of regulations.
Altman appeared before the U.S. Senate in May, urging lawmakers to establish regulations for AI due to its potential negative impact on the job market, information ecosystem, and various societal and economic aspects.
Expressing concern, Altman stated, “I think if this technology goes wrong, it can go quite wrong. And we want to be vocal about that. We want to work with the government to prevent that from happening.”
Before his Senate testimony, Altman also spoke at a dinner attended by around 60 lawmakers, who were reportedly impressed by his speech and demonstrations.
“Keeping members of Congress engaged for nearly two hours is no easy feat,” remarked Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., the vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, who, along with GOP Conference Vice Chair Mike Johnson, R-La. (now House speaker), co-hosted the dinner. Lieu added, “So Sam Altman was very informative and provided a lot of information.”
More recently, Altman addressed the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in San Francisco this week, sharing the stage with various technology executives and world leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
OpenAI highlighted its growing influence in the technology industry by hosting its inaugural developer conference in early November. A surprise guest appearance was made by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella during the event. Nadella joined Altman on stage to discuss the startup’s AI technologies and its partnership with Microsoft.
In a surprising turn of events, Sam Altman steps down as OpenAI’s CEO following a board review revealing inconsistent communication. Mira Murati assumes the interim CEO role. Altman, in a Twitter post, didn’t address the allegations but expressed love for OpenAI. Microsoft, a key investor, voiced commitment to the partnership, despite a stock decline.