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OpenAI Welcomes Sam Altman Back to Board with Three New Members

ByHuey Yee Ong

Mar 11, 2024
OpenAI Welcomes Sam Altman Back to Board with Three New Members

Sam Altman has been reappointed to the board of directors at OpenAI, a few months after his departure from the CEO position, marking a significant shift in the organization’s leadership dynamics. Alongside Altman, OpenAI welcomes three new board members: Sue Desmond-Hellmann, former CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Nicole Seligman, ex-President of Sony Entertainment; and Fidji Simo, CEO of Instacart. This expansion brings the total number of board members to eight, aiming to diversify the board’s expertise and perspectives.

Maintaining Continuity Through Restructuring

The reformation of OpenAI’s board does not lead to the departure of the transitionary board members established after Altman was removed. This includes Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor, who currently serves as OpenAI’s board chair, Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, economist and former Harvard president Larry Summers, and Dee Templeton, a board observer from Microsoft. The integration of new members alongside the retention of the existing ones underscores a commitment to continuity as well as change.

OpenAI Responds to Diversity Criticisms with Board Expansion

This restructuring comes after OpenAI faced criticism for its previous all-male board composition and the inclusion of Larry Summers, who has a controversial history of making disparaging remarks about women. The importance of diversity, especially the inclusion of the Black perspective to combat AI bias, was highlighted by the Congressional Black Caucus in a letter addressed to the company.

The backgrounds of the new board members are notably diverse and bring a wealth of experience from various sectors:

  1. Sue Desmond-Hellmann
    • Former CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
    • Previous Chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco
    • Pioneered cancer drug development at Genentech
    • Oncologist by training, board-certified in both internal medicine and medical oncology
  2. Nicole Seligman
    • Legal background with national attention for representing Lt. Col. Oliver North and President Bill Clinton
    • Held significant positions within Sony, including VC, general counsel, CEO of Sony Corporation, and President of Sony Corporation of America
  3. Fidji Simo
    • CEO of Instacart with a strong leadership background in tech
    • Played a crucial role in Meta’s app, video, and monetization strategies
    • Co-founder and President of The Metrodora Foundation, focusing on health and research

What Did the WilmerHale Investigation Reveal About Altman’s Removal?

The board’s expansion and Altman’s return were influenced by an investigation led by the law firm WilmerHale. The investigation included:

  • Interviews with company executives, board members, and other stakeholders.
  • Review of thousands of documents and corporate actions.

It concluded that Altman’s removal was primarily due to a breakdown in trust and relationships rather than concerns over product safety, development pace, or financial issues. This investigation, involving interviews and document reviews, suggested that while the board was within its rights to remove Altman, his actions did not necessitate such a decision. Despite the removal, the investigation found no evidence warranting Altman’s dismissal based on his actions. Altman’s reinstatement reflects the board’s confidence in his leadership abilities and vision for OpenAI’s future.

OpenAI has acknowledged the findings and emphasizes a unified belief in Altman and OpenAI president Greg Brockman’s leadership. In response to this and broader concerns, OpenAI is implementing new governance guidelines aimed at strengthening conflict of interest policies, establishing a whistleblower hotline, and creating additional board committees focused on mission and strategy. These changes reflect a commitment to addressing past criticisms and enhancing the organization’s governance and oversight capabilities.

However, reports suggest a divided opinion within OpenAI regarding Altman’s leadership, pointing to a complex dynamic between personal leadership styles and organizational governance. As OpenAI moves forward with its new board structure and governance reforms, the tech and AI communities will closely watch how these changes impact the company’s direction and its pivotal role in shaping the future of artificial intelligence.

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Featured Image courtesy of Jason Redmond—AFP/Getty Images

Huey Yee Ong

Hello, from one tech geek to another. Not your beloved TechCrunch writer, but a writer with an avid interest in the fast-paced tech scenes and all the latest tech mojo. I bring with me a unique take towards tech with a honed applied psychology perspective to make tech news digestible. In other words, I deliver tech news that is easy to read.