Microsoft Hires Sam Altman, OpenAI Taps Ex-Twitch CEO Emmett Shear
by: Hani Kamal El-Din
After a flurry of weekend negotiations, Microsoft said it hired Sam Altman — just two days after the board of OpenAI ousted him as CEO — while OpenAI recruited Emmett Shear, most recently chief executive of livestreaming platform Twitch, to step in as interim CEO.
Altman will lead a new artificial-intelligence research team at Microsoft, alongside former OpenAI president Greg Brockman (who had quit after Altman was fired on Nov. 17), Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced in a post Sunday night. Microsoft previously announced plans to invest billions over several years in OpenAI, the research organization that created the buzzy AI chatbot ChatGPT. Per the New York Times, Microsoft has invested more than $13 billion in San Francisco-based OpenAI. Other investors in OpenAI include Sequoia Capital and Thrive Capital.
Meanwhile, OpenAI, launched as a not-for-profit research lab in 2015, on Sunday named Shear, who left Amazon-owned Twitch in March, its interim CEO.
Nadella wrote in the post on X, “We remain committed to our partnership with OpenAI and have confidence in our product roadmap, our ability to continue to innovate with everything we announced at Microsoft Ignite, and in continuing to support our customers and partners. We look forward to getting to know Emmett Shear and OAI’s new leadership team and working with them. And we’re extremely excited to share the news that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team. We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success.”
Altman, quoting Nadella’s post, wrote: “the mission continues.”
Shear, for his part, wrote on X that he resigned as CEO of Twitch “due to the birth of my now 9-month-old son.” He said he took the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to lead OpenAI “because I believe that OpenAI is one of the most important companies currently in existence. When the board shared the situation and asked me to take the role, I did not make the decision lightly. Ultimately I felt that I had a duty to help if I could.”
OpenAI had said on Friday that “Mr. Altman’s departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities. The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.”
The details surrounding Altman’s ouster have remained murky. Before Altman agreed to join Microsoft, he reportedly was already been pitching investors on a new AI startup.
Shear wrote in his post, “Our partnership with Microsoft remains strong, and my priority in the coming weeks will be to make sure we continue to serve all our customers well. OpenAI employees are extremely impressive, as you might have guessed, and mission-driven in the extreme. And it’s clear that the process and communications around Sam’s removal has been handled very badly, which has seriously damaged our trust.”
According to Shear, within in the next 30 days, he plans to hire an independent investigator “to dig into the entire process leading up to this point and generate a full report”; to “reform the management and leadership team in light of recent departures into an effective force to drive results for our customers”; and to continue to speak to as many OpenAI employees, partners, investors, and customers as possible.
Shear also wrote that “Before I took the job, I checked on the reasoning behind the change. The board did not remove Sam over any specific disagreement on safety, their reasoning was completely different from that. I’m not crazy enough to take this job without board support for commercializing our awesome models.”
Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives wrote in a note Monday, “The embarrassing circus show over the weekend at OpenAI was finally taken over by the adults in the room at Microsoft as Nadella & Co. now have added the linchpins of AI Sam Altman and Greg Brockman to join Microsoft to lead advanced AI research team. The OpenAI failed coup attempt by the 4 person Board did not want Altman back as their CEO…. so MSFT hired this key asset and now he will oversee OpenAI from Redmond along with Nadella which is the music to the ears of investors.”