OpenAI Board Reappoints Altman, Adds Three New Directors After Review

OpenAI Board Reappoints Altman, Adds Three New Directors After Review

OpenAI's board of directors announced today that an independent review has concluded co-founders Sam Altman and Greg Brockman are "the right leaders" for the pioneering artificial intelligence company. The finding comes four months after a shock move by the previous board to oust Altman as CEO, a decision that triggered a staff revolt and leadership crisis.

The board stated that after evaluating the findings of law firm WilmerHale's investigation, it was expressing "full confidence in Mr. Sam Altman and Mr. Greg Brockman's ongoing leadership of OpenAI." Altman will rejoin the board as CEO.

The review, commissioned by a special board committee in December, involved interviews with dozens of witnesses including former board members, executives and advisors, and analysis of over 30,000 documents. It sought to uncover the circumstances that led to the board's controversial Nov. 17 decision to terminate Altman and remove Brockman as chairman.

WilmerHale found the ex-board "believed at the time that its actions would mitigate internal management challenges" stemming from a "breakdown in trust" with Altman. However, it "did not anticipate that its actions would destabilize the Company."

Crucially, investigators determined Altman's conduct "did not mandate removal." Rather, they faulted the previous board for acting hastily "without advance notice to key stakeholders, and without a full inquiry or an opportunity for Mr. Altman to address [its] concerns."

OpenAI has also named three prominent new directors to its board: former Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann, former Sony executive Nicole Seligman, and Instacart CEO Fidji Simo. They join recently appointed members Larry Summers and Bret Taylor, who replaced several directors who left after Altman's return.

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), Altman welcomed the new board members and expressed gratitude for his team's resilience during the challenging period. He particularly thanked CTO Mira Murati for her "strong partnership and her leadership during the drama," and Brockman, without whom "OpenAI would simply not exist."

Altman also shared a lesson from the experience, acknowledging he could have handled the situation with a former board member he believed was harming OpenAI "with more grace and care." He apologized and said, "I assume a genuine belief in the crucial importance of getting AGI right from everyone involved."

The expanded board, set to total seven members with Altman's reappointment, aims to augment OpenAI's governance through measures like:

  • Adopting new corporate guidelines and strengthening conflict-of-interest policies
  • Creating a whistleblower hotline for anonymous employee reporting
  • Establishing a board "Mission & Strategy" committee to steer implementation of OpenAI's core purpose

The introduction of a new Mission & Strategy committee is particularly noteworthy, emphasizing the board's dedication to aligning OpenAI’s growth with its foundational mission of ensuring artificial general intelligence benefits humanity at large. This will help guide OpenAI through the complex regulatory and ethical landscapes it navigates as a frontrunner in AI research and development.

The moves seek to enhance oversight and restore stability after the November crisis that saw over 700 of OpenAI's 770 employees threaten resignation unless Altman and Brockman were reinstated.

The aftermath of the November 2023 events has been a period of introspection and recalibration for OpenAI. With the Special Committee expressing "full confidence" in the reinstated leadership and a bolstered governance framework, OpenAI seems ready to embark on its next phase of growth and innovation. The expanded board, featuring voices of seasoned leaders like Desmond-Hellmann, Seligman, and Simo, brings a wealth of experience that is expected to steer OpenAI towards fulfilling its ambitious mission while navigating the multifaceted challenges of pioneering AI technologies.

As the company grapples with multiplying government inquiries and legal disputes, the expanded board faces pressure to shore up OpenAI's credibility. "We recognize the magnitude of our role in stewarding transformative technologies for the global good," Taylor noted.

OpenAI CTO, Mira Murati (who was temporarily appointed as interim CEO after Altman's firing), has denounced a report by The New York Times that suggests she shared a private memo questioning Altman's leadership with the board, precipitating his ouster. In a message on X, Murati said she never proactively approached the board, but simply provided feedback about Altman when directly asked by individual directors.

"That does not in any way mean that I am responsible for or supported the old board's actions, which I still find perplexing," Murati wrote. "I fought their actions aggressively and we all worked together to bring Sam back."

This clarification is essential, not just for setting the record straight regarding Murati's role and stance, but also for preserving the integrity of OpenAI's leadership team as they strive to put the tumultuous events of November behind them. Murati's firm rebuttal of the New York Times report demonstrates her commitment to transparency, her alignment with Altman's vision, and her dedication to leading OpenAI forward in a spirit of unity.

For now, leadership is projecting optimism that with Altman back at the helm supported by new directors, reformed policies and a unifying sense of purpose, OpenAI can overcome recent wounds and divisions to execute its longtime vision. But the self-inflicted governance crisis that nearly derailed its trajectory underscores the immense challenges ahead in responsibly developing and deploying tremendously powerful AI systems with profound societal implications.

Chris McKay is the founder and chief editor of Maginative. His thought leadership in AI literacy and strategic AI adoption has been recognized by top academic institutions, media, and global brands.

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