Sam Altman hints at OpenAI boardroom drama in blog post


OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has long dispensed advice to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, having led the startup accelerator Y Combinator before his current role leading what is arguably the world’s most important artificial-intelligence company. But with his latest round of advice, given in a post on his personal blog on Thursday, it’s hard not to think about the recent turmoil at OpenAI that saw Altman ousted then quickly reinstated as CEO last month, a boardroom drama that captivated Silicon Valley and much of the business and technology world.

OpenAI’s nonprofit board abruptly fired Altman last month, giving only vague reasons. The move blindsided among others Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, whose company has invested billions into the ChatGPT maker. After five tumultuous days in which investors and employees rallied around Altman, it became clear that he would be reinstated as CEO and the board would be revamped.

Earlier this month, Altman told Trevor Noah on the What Now? podcast about his short-lived but intense ordeal: “I’m still a little bit in shock and a little bit just trying to pick up the pieces. I’m sure as I have time to sit and process this I’ll have a lot more feelings about it.” 

In the blog post yesterday, some of Altman’s pieces of advice were pretty standard (“Optimism, obsession, self-belief, raw horsepower and personal connections are how things get started”) while others seemed like they might refer to last month’s chaos—and may be part of the processing that Altman mentioned to Noah.

Of course, this is only speculation, and Altman may not have been referring to the OpenAI chaos or even had it in mind when writing his post. Fortune has reached out to the company and will update this story with any response. But with knowledge of his ouster, it’s difficult not to read some of the advice without thinking about recent events at the company, including, “Get back up and keep going.”

In particular, the seventh item reads: “Fight bullshit and bureaucracy every time you see it and get other people to fight it too. Do not let the org chart get in the way of people working productively together.”

Altman certainly fought against the decision to fire him as colleagues and investors rallied around him. Two days after his dismissal, Altman posted an image of himself wearing a guest badge in the OpenAI office, writing: “First and last time I ever wear one of these.” And just hours after it, fellow cofounder Greg Brockman resigned in protest from his role as OpenAI president.

Soon, OpenAI colleagues were repeating the line “OpenAI is nothing without its people” in X posts, with Altman responding with a heart emoji. That emoji became something of a rallying cry among employees in the days that followed.

Another piece of advice from Altman: “Communicate clearly and concisely.” When they fired him, the board said Altman had not been “consistently candid in his communications,” so Altman might be referring here to his own communication to the board here. Or, reading it another way, perhaps he’s taking a dig at the board over their bureaucratic-sounding explanation of why they fired him in the first place.

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