OpenAI President Greg Brockman quits as shocked employees hold all-hands meeting

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OpenAI / Ars Technica

On Friday afternoon, not long after news of CEO Sam Altman’s abrupt and surprising departure from OpenAI began spreading online, the company held an all-hands meeting at its headquarters in San Francisco, reports The Information. During the meeting, interim CEO Mira Murati attempted to reassure the shocked employees that the search for a new CEO is underway.

Hours later, OpenAI co-founder and president Greg Brockman posted a statement on X, saying that after he learned today’s news he sent a message to the OpenAI team: “based on todays news, i quit.” Brockman, a key technical figure involved in many of the company’s successes, was relieved of his OpenAI board membership on Friday, but the company initially announced he would be staying on.

Earlier on Friday, OpenAI released a blog post titled “OpenAI announces leadership transition” where it announced that Atlman “was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.” In a response post on X, Altman wrote, “I loved my time at openai,” and hinted at future plans without revealing any details.

An X post from OpenAI President Greg Brockman sent 7:09 PM Eastern on Nov 17, 2023.
Enlarge / An X post from OpenAI President Greg Brockman sent 7:09 PM Eastern on Nov 17, 2023.

News of the firing sent shockwaves through the tech community on Friday, prompting rumors on social media about the potential reasons behind Altman’s departure, none of which have yet been verified. Altman recently delivered the keynote for its inaugural Dev Day conference and spoke on a panel at the APEC CEO Summit on Thursday. Nothing seemed amiss, according to reports from people who know Altman, so the firing possibly came as a surprise.

OpenAI Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever reportedly told staff that the internal shake-up will “make us feel closer.” In a note to staff earlier in the day, Sutskever wrote, “Change can be scary,” according to The Information, while reassuring that the company has an “incredible team” and that the company’s “research progress is wildly dramatic to say the least, and our product is the fastest growing in history.”

Microsoft employees were also shocked by Altman’s departure; reportedly, employees working on OpenAI-related projects did not receive notice that Altman was being fired. Altman served as OpenAI’s primary point of contact, and he was instrumental in architecting deals that led to billions of dollars of investment from Microsoft. Reportedly, Altman attended a regularly scheduled meeting with Microsoft executives on Thursday.

In an X post, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote, “We have a long-term agreement with OpenAI with full access to everything we need to deliver on our innovation agenda and an exciting product roadmap; and remain committed to our partnership, and to Mira and the team. Together, we will continue to deliver the meaningful benefits of this technology to the world.”

Amid the shakeup, OpenAI has emphasized that Murati’s role as CEO is apparently temporary. “Search process underway to identify permanent successor,” they wrote in their announcement. OpenAI was not immediately available to comment.

According to reporting from Kara Swisher and The Information, it’s looking like the ouster of Altman stemmed from an internal disagreement over the direction of the company with regard to a focus on profits over safety, with Chief Scientist Illya Sutskever apparently behind the board maneuvering. Altman’s firing came as a complete surprise to Altman and Brockman, who were kept in the dark about the decision until Friday afternoon.

At 8:42 PM Pacific, Greg Brockman released a joint statement from himself and Sam Altman on X.

Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today.

Let us first say thank you to all the incredible people who we have worked with at OpenAI, our customers, our investors, and all of those who have been reaching out.

We too are still trying to figure out exactly what happened. Here is what we know:

– Last night, Sam got a text from Ilya asking to talk at noon Friday. Sam joined a Google Meet and the whole board, except Greg, was there. Ilya told Sam he was being fired and that the news was going out very soon.

– At 12:19pm, Greg got a text from Ilya asking for a quick call. At 12:23pm, Ilya sent a Google Meet link. Greg was told that he was being removed from the board (but was vital to the company and would retain his role) and that Sam had been fired. Around the same time, OpenAI published a blog post.

– As far as we know, the management team was made aware of this shortly after, other than Mira who found out the night prior.

The outpouring of support has been really nice; thank you, but please don’t spend any time being concerned. We will be fine. Greater things coming soon.

At 9:05 PM Pacific, Sam Altman posted his second statement on X today:

i love you all. today was a weird experience in many ways. but one unexpected one is that it has been sorta like reading your own eulogy while you’re still alive. the outpouring of love is awesome. one takeaway: go tell your friends how great you think they are.

Expect more to come on this topic later as more details emerge.

This post has been updated to add information from Kara Swisher at The Information, as well as updates from Brockman and Altman.

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