The drama at OpenAI continues to unfold rapidly. On Friday, November 20, CEO Sam Altman was abruptly fired by the board. The move prompted outrage and chaos, with over 700 employees now “threatening to resign unless all current board members resign,” according to their letter .
What’s more, after Microsoft announced Sam Altman would be joining them, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella then expressed willingness to integrate OpenAI personnel should any choose to leave their current positions.
In a November 20 interview with CNBC’s Jon Fortt, Nadella conveyed that the decision rests with each OpenAI employee whether to remain in place or join Microsoft. “I’m open to both options,” he said.
“We will definitely have a place for all AI talent to come here [to Microsoft] and more forward on the mission, and we will be supportive of whoever remains at OpenAI, or whatever,” the Microsoft CEO told the Pivot podcast the following day.
“A lot of people, I among them, think that you possibly just got [OpenAI] for free if all these employees go over,” said Kara Swisher, one of the podcast’s hosts.
Nadella replied, confirming that Microsoft had promised jobs to many former OpenAI staff. “There is a lot of competition for AI talent. If they’re going to leave OpenAI I want to make sure Microsoft is a choice for them.”
Microsoft already has a longstanding relationship with OpenAI, having invested billions of dollars dating back to July 2019 . However, if the anger of OpenAI employees proves to be more than a fleeting thing, and Nadella follows through, the essence of OpenAI could become a lasting part of Microsoft’s identity.
This, in turn, could potentially catapult Microsoft to the lead in the AI arms race. And for little more than the cost of salaries. With an estimated 80 to $90 billion dollar valuation in September, OpenAI, and its ChatGPT AI chatbot, is by far the hottest AI property in the world. At least for now.
The firing of Altman, who helped found OpenAI back in 2019, is unlikely to settle soon. Especially with the overwhelming majority of employees signed up to the public letter. Company staff are “unable to work for or with people that lack competence, judgment and care for our mission.” Altman, it seems, has their fierce loyalty. In their view, the board sabotaged OpenAI’s mission to develop safe and beneficial AI. They apparently failed to justify Altman’s removal too.
Now, Nadella looks to capitalize. By hiring away staff, he captures much OpenAI’s essential quality. As employees themselves wrote repeatedly on X , “OpenAI is nothing without its people.” Nadella could essentially walk away with a $80 billion company for pennies if he makes the right moves.
Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s co-founder who helped orchestrate CEO Sam Altman’s ouster last week, now deeply regrets his actions and is threatening to quit. As chief scientist and a board member, he was believed to have played a leading role in Altman’s dismissal over disagreements on commercializing AI. Now Sutskever says he never intended to harm OpenAI and will do everything to reunite the company.
Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.