After a week of drama involving the ouster of Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, the AI company behind viral chatbot ChatGPT, the tech giant with one of its most significant stakes in the startup, will get more visibility into the inner workings of the nonprofit entity. Microsoft will take a nonvoting observer position on OpenAIs board, CEO Altman said in his first official message after returning the company’s reins on Wednesday.
The move will give Microsoft a seat on the for-profit board that controls the nonprofit, giving it more visibility into the board and the decisions being made, though it won’t have any formal voting rights. Microsoft is a significant investor in the startup, with a 49% stake in the for-profit entity that the nonprofit board oversees.
It’s unclear what led to Altman’s ouster, but the decision surprised investors, who had been pushing him to return to the role. A few contacted Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who told them he was okay with Altman returning.
Last week, Altman reportedly reached an agreement in principle to return to the company and was reinstated as CEO with a new board that includes former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor as chairman; former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers; and Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo (who was part of the previous board that fired Altman). Mira Murati, who served as interim CEO after Altman’s firing, will resume her role as chief technology officer.
While the new board will have many of the same members that comprised the previous board, including D’Angelo and Summers, the addition of Microsoft will change things. Reuters explains that the observer position means that Microsoft’s representative can attend OpenAIs board meetings and access confidential information. Still, it won’t have voting rights on matters including electing or choosing directors.
Altman also reaffirmed his commitment to the startup and its mission in his first message since taking back the reins, promising he would “acquire the full strength of the team.” He called out former CEO Greg Brockman for his role in the brawl that erupted around the pair, saying, “I hope you’ll find the strength to reconcile your differences to build the most advanced artificial intelligence possible for the benefit of humanity.”
The letter ended with gratitude to employees, particularly those who signed a letter that threatened to leave the company unless Altman and Brockman were reinstated. It also commended X cofounder Ilya Sutskever, who was instrumental in Altman’s firing but later apologized for his actions. The letter prompted many employees to respond with heart emojis to show appreciation. The new board will hold its inaugural meeting next month.