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OpenAI investors are working to get rid of the company’s board and reinstate Sam Altman as chief executive of the generative AI start-up, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation, in what would amount to a spectacular counter-coup they are confident could be concluded this weekend.
A group of investors including Microsoft and prominent venture capital firms, along with employees at the company, were exploring options to resolve the crisis, according to three people briefed on the discussions.
These options include removing the board of the non-profit that oversees OpenAI and reinstalling Altman and his co-founder Greg Brockman just one day after they were pushed out of the ChatGPT parent, sending shockwaves through Silicon Valley.
“Since the minute [Altman was sacked] this has been in the works,” said one of the people involved in the effort. Major investors in OpenAI, including Thrive Capital and Sequoia Capital, have been in touch with Microsoft and with Altman over the weekend to explore possible next steps, according to the three people familiar with the discussions.
One of the people, a leading investor in OpenAI, is confident that they can dispose of the board and reinstate Altman and Brockman before the weekend is out. Investors are hoping that Altman would return to a company “which has been his life’s work,” and that Mira Murati, promoted from chief technology officer to interim chief executive on Friday, would stay at the company, added the person.
But other venture funds are hedging their bets, committing to support Altman whatever he chooses to do next, be that a return to OpenAI or launching a new venture, according to two venture fund investors.
Microsoft, Thrive Capital and Sequoia declined to comment. OpenAI could not immediately be reached for comment.
The board said it had removed Altman on Friday because he had not been “consistently candid” in his conversations with them.
Investors and employees could refuse further backing or quit the company in an attempt to force the board to reinstate him.
The OpenAI board’s abrupt decision to oust Altman and demote Brockman on Friday has drawn attention to its unusual corporate structure and the composition of its board. That board oversees a non-profit entity that owns a for-profit company.
Unlike a typical for-profit, where fiduciary duties are owed to shareholders, OpenAI’s board is committed to a charter that pledges to ensure AI is developed for the benefit of all humanity.
“The whole board will resign, the whole board. They hurt the company. In a real company where there’s a fiduciary responsibility, the first rule for a normal board is ‘do no harm’ . . . They caused the company immense harm,” said a person involved in efforts to reinstate Altman.
The board includes OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever along with independent directors Adam D’Angelo, the chief executive of Quora; technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley; and Helen Toner from the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology.
OpenAI’s board has said nothing publicly about what caused the split with Altman beyond its statement on Friday. According to investors, tensions over the speed at which the former chief executive wanted to deploy powerful AI tools had stoked board concerns that the safety of those tools could be compromised. “They had an argument about moving too fast. That’s it,” said one of the investors.
Additional reporting by Richard Waters in San Francisco
Robert Johnson is a UK-based business writer specializing in finance and entrepreneurship. With an eye for market trends and a keen interest in the corporate world, he offers readers valuable insights into business developments.