Sam Altman to return to OpenAI’s board along with 3 new members

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SAN FRANCISCO — OpenAI reappointed chief executive Sam Altman to the company’s board and named three new female board members after an investigation by a law firm found no evidence of wrongdoing in the lead-up to the company’s high-profile leadership crisis last November.

About four months after Altman’s brief but dramatic ouster from OpenAI, board chairman Bret Taylor said in a statement Friday that the board had “unanimously concluded” that Altman and his deputy, OpenAI President Greg Brockman, “are the right leaders for OpenAI.”

The maker of the popular ChatGPT chatbot named Sue Desmond-Hellmann, a former CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Nicole Seligman, a former executive vice president and general counsel of Sony Entertainment; and Fidji Simo, CEO of Instacart, to its new board.

OpenAI’s previous board shocked the tech world in November when it announced Altman’s firing in a Friday afternoon blog post. After five days of wrangling among the board, company executives and OpenAI’s investors, Altman was reinstated as CEO and three of the four board members who fired him stepped down. The fourth, Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, is part of the current temporary board but was not part of the subcommittee that led the review into the boardroom crisis, according to a December update to a blog post from OpenAI and the board.

In a summary OpenAI released of the findings from an investigation by the law firm WilmerHale into Altman’s ouster, the law firm found that the company’s previous board fired Altman because of a “breakdown in the relationship and loss of trust between the prior board and Mr. Altman.” Brockman, Altman’s close deputy, was removed from OpenAI’s board when the decision to fire the CEO was announced.

The firm did not find any problems when it came to OpenAI’s product safety, finances or its statements to investors, OpenAI said. The Securities and Exchange Commission is probing whether OpenAI misled its investors.

As part of the board announcement, Altman and Taylor held a short conference call with reporters. The two sat side by side against a red brick wall as Taylor explained the law firm’s review and how it found no evidence of financial or safety wrongdoing at the company. He referred to the CEO sitting next to him as “Mr. Altman,” then joked about the formality of the term.

The company also said it will adopt new “corporate governance guidelines,” including beefing up its conflict of interest policy and creating a hotline for anonymous tips from employees. In the call with reporters, Taylor declined to elaborate on how the conflict of interest policy was being updated.

“I’m pleased this whole thing is over,” Altman said. He said he was sorry for how he handled parts of his relationship with a prior board member. “I could have handled that situation with more grace and care. I apologize for that.”

OpenAI’s choice of new board members was closely scrutinized in part because the only independent board directors who stepped down when Altman returned as CEO were both women: Helen Toner, with Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, and tech entrepreneur Tasha McCauley.

Accountability is paramount when building technology with a potential to transform the world, Toner and McCauley wrote in a joint statement shared Friday on X. “We hope the new board does its job in governing OpenAI and holding it accountable to the mission. As we told the investigators, deception, manipulation, and resistance to thorough oversight should unacceptable,” the statement said.

For its review, WilmerHale conducted dozens of interviews with members of OpenAI’s previous board, OpenAI executives, advisers to the prior board and other witnesses, OpenAI said in its statement Friday. The firm also reviewed more than 30,000 documents and evaluated various corporate actions.

One person familiar with the investigation who had been interviewed by the firm said WilmerHale did not offer a way to confidentially share relevant information. The firm may have limited its ability to gather the necessary facts and confirm allegations by not offering protection from retaliation, said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share sensitive details.

The Washington Post previously reported that the board’s decision to oust Altman in November was set in motion earlier that fall after a small number of senior leaders at OpenAI shared concerns about Altman’s leadership. Senior leaders alleged to the board that Altman had been psychologically abusive by pitting employees against each other and retaliating against employees who shared critical feedback.

Those leaders included OpenAI’s chief technology officer, Mira Murati, and chief scientist, Ilya Sutskever, the person said.

“I am happy that the independent review has concluded and we can all move forward united,” Murati wrote Friday in a post on X, adding, “It has been disheartening to witness the previous board’s efforts to scapegoat me with anonymous and misleading claims in a last-ditch effort to save face in the media.”

OpenAI’s announcement did not mention Sutskever, who was on the initial board that decided to fire Altman. Altman said the company didn’t have anything to announce regarding Sutskever.

“I love Ilya. I think Ilya loves OpenAI,” he said, adding that he hopes to work with the AI scientist for many years to come.

Since the leadership crisis, OpenAI has continued its quick pace of updating products and announcing new research. In February, the company showed off a new tool that makes realistic-looking AI videos.

At the same time, it is fighting multiple legal and regulatory challenges. Authors and news organizations have sued it for using their copyrighted work to train its AI algorithms, something that the company considers legal under copyright law. Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic are also looking into the company’s relationship with its largest investor, Microsoft.

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