Sam Altman to return to OpenAI’s board along with three new directors

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and ChatGPT logo
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and ChatGPT logo

OpenAI revealed Friday that CEO Sam Altman will rejoin its board of directors – and said it has “full confidence” in his leadership after wrapping up a secretive probe into the circumstances that led to his shock firing from the company last Nov. 17.

The surprise return of Altman, 38, is one of several additions to a restructured board of the nonprofit that oversees OpenAI. The other new board directors are Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the former CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Nicole Seligman, a former general counsel at Sony and Fidji Simo, the CEO of Instacart.

“I am excited to welcome Sue, Nicole, and Fidji to the OpenAI Board of Directors,” board member Bret Taylor said in a statement. “Their experience and leadership will enable the Board to oversee OpenAI’s growth, and to ensure that we pursue OpenAI’s mission of ensuring artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity.”

The surprise return of Altman, 38, is one of several additions to a restructured board of the nonprofit that oversees OpenAI. AP
The surprise return of Altman, 38, is one of several additions to a restructured board of the nonprofit that oversees OpenAI. AP

OpenAI’s board now consists of a total of seven, with current members including Taylor, ex-Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo. Microsoft has a nonvoting observer seat.

The nonprofit will add more members in the future, the company said during a Friday Zoom call with reporters, according to CNBC.

The ChatGPT maker descended into chaos just before Thanksgiving last year when the previous iteration of the board fired Altman for not being “consistently candid in his communications.”

When Altman eventually returned, OpenAI’s revamped board tapped white-shoe law firm WilmerHale to investigate the incident. Three board members involved in Altman’s firing — Helen Toner, Tasha McCauley and Ilya Sutskever – exited when he returned to the CEO seat.

A summary of the law firm’s review cited a “breakdown in trust between the prior Board and Mr. Altman” ahead of his firing.

Altman praised OpenAI’s chief technology officer Mira Murati – just one day after a bombshell New York Times report revealed that she had complained to the board. AFP via Getty Images
Altman praised OpenAI’s chief technology officer Mira Murati – just one day after a bombshell New York Times report revealed that she had complained to the board. AFP via Getty Images

“After reviewing the WilmerHale findings, the Special Committee recommended to the full Board that it endorse the November 21 decision to rehire Mr. Altman and Mr. Brockman,” OpenAI said in a release. “With knowledge of the review’s findings, the Special Committee expressed its full confidence in Mr. Altman and Mr. Brockman’s ongoing leadership of OpenAI.”

Altan reportedly told reporters he was “very grateful to Bret and Larry and WilmerHale.”

He also poured praise on OpenAI’s chief technology officer Mira Murati – just one day after a bombshell New York Times report revealed that she had complained to the board about Altman’s “manipulative” behavior shortly before he was fired.

“Mira in particular is incremental to OpenAI all the time…but through that period in November, she has done an amazing job helping to lead the company,” Altman reportedly said.

Taylor told reporters that the investigators “concluded the board acted in good faith… [and] did not anticipate some of the instability that led afterwards,” according to CNBC.

ChatGPT owner OpenAI will add more members in the future, the company said during a Friday Zoom call with reporters, according to CNBC. SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
ChatGPT owner OpenAI will add more members in the future, the company said during a Friday Zoom call with reporters, according to CNBC. SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The vague release noted that the dispute between Altman and former board members was not related to concerns about the safety or security of OpenAI’s advanced AI research, nor was it a fight over “the pace of development, OpenAI’s finances, or its statements to investors, customers, or business partners.”

While the former board members were found to be within their jurisdiction to fire Altman, the law firm concluded that Altman’s behavior did not “mandate” his removal.

The probe included “dozens of interviews with members of OpenAI’s prior board, OpenAI executives, advisors to the prior board, and other pertinent witnesses” as well as a review of “more than 30,000 documents; and evaluated various corporate actions,” according to a release.

The exact nature of Altman’s alleged misdeeds remains unclear, though one report have said the OpenAI chief rankled executives through “psychologically abusive” behavior.