Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on Monday said that he was open to the prospect of Sam Altman returning to OpenAI following his dramatic ouster from the high-profile company last week, as the fallout of his abrupt removal continues.
The tech giant had previously announced that it was bringing in Altman and former OpenAI President Greg Brockman to lead a new artificial intelligence research team there, and also appeared prepared to hire other OpenAI employees who choose to follow their former boss out of the company. Brockman resigned from OpenAI in protest over the firing of Altman as CEO.
But in an interview with CNBC, Nadella seemed willing to accept a scenario in which Altman would return to his old job, saying it’s up to the people of OpenAI to choose to stay there or go over to Microsoft.
“I’m open to both options,” he said.
Microsoft is a major investor in OpenAI, the company behind AI text chatbot ChatGPT.
Altman, according to sources cited by The Verge, wants to return to OpenAI but only under the condition that all current board members step down. He was removed as CEO on Friday by the board, which said it “no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.”
“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 said in a statement. It initially appointed Mira Murati, the company’s chief technology officer, as interim CEO.
The board has yet to release any further information about its decision.
While Altman and the board held negotiations over the weekend, the company’s leadership decided against bringing him back and appointed a new interim CEO, Emmett Shear, who promised to get to the bottom of what led to Altman’s firing.
Altman’s removal was met with backlash by an overwhelming majority of OpenAI employees, including board member and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who had reportedly initiated Altman’s removal. Employees wrote a letter threatening to resign en masse — noting that Microsoft had offered to hire all of them — unless the current board members left the company.
In a post on social media, Altman said that he and Nadella remain focused on the success of his former company.
“Satya and my top priority remains to ensure openai continues to thrive,” Altman wrote on Monday.
“We are committed to fully providing continuity of operations to our partners and customers,” he added. “The openai/microsoft partnership makes this very doable.”
Asked if Microsoft needs a seat on OpenAI’s board, Nadella told CNBC that he expects the current structure will evolve.
“I think it’s very, very clear that something has to change around the governance,” Nadella said.
He added, “We’ll have a good dialogue with their board on that.”