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Why Sam Altman Got Fired and a Major Plot Twist

Sam Altman Gets Fired form OpenAI

If you haven’t read our initial story on the firing of Sam Altman from OpenAI, read it here.

Less than 48 hours after the firing of Sam Altman as CEO of OpenAI, we’re starting to learn why. At the very least, it’s unusual to fire someone who built a company with a $90 billion dollar valuation. But the facts are the facts.

He’s gone (for the moment).

He was blindsided, with everyone else on his team.

So it wasn’t just some miscommunication between him and his board, as has been previously reported. This was something major.

Real major.

And something all us Creators can learn from. Read on, and see how we can all protect ourselves from a similar fate.

Sam Altman: Why He got Fired

If you head over to the OpenAI blog post from Friday, you’re going to have to parse a lot of corporate speak. The company states the reason for Altman’s firing as follows:

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.

But let’s keep it simple. When a guy leads a company to a valuation as high as OpenAI, it has to take a lot of miscommunication to get fired.

Some have speculated it’s because of Microsoft’s 49% investment in the company, and they weren’t confident in Altman. But, according to reports from sources like TechCrunch, the upper brass at Microsoft wasn’t informed until minutes before the firing. Whether Microsoft Satya Nadella knew or not is still being determined. And Bloomberg reports that Nadella was actually furious at the firing.

There have also been reports from Sam Altman’s sister that he had an inappropriate relationship with her when she was very young. These claims have been posted by her on X, but are unsubstantiated.

What has been substantiated is that OpenAI chief operating officer Brad Lightcap sent a memo to employees stating that “We can say definitively that the board’s decision was not made in response to malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices. This was a breakdown in communication between Sam and the board.”

Another speculation from renowned journalist and podcaster Kara Swisher states that Sam Altman and OpenAI president Greg Brockman were at odds with chief scientist Ilya Sutskever over how quickly and aggressively the AI technology should be advanced and released to the public. This concerned the board, and potentially led to his firing.

But the fact is, no one knows all the details quite yet.

The Fallout and a Major Sam Altman Plot Twist

What is known is that OpenAI appears to be in a free fall after Friday’s news. President Greg Brockman as well as numerous top-lvel researchers have resigned. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is reportedly furious. And numerous investors are up in arms.

And, perhaps in one of the greatest tech plot twists of all-time, OpenAI is reportedly already in negotiations for Sam Altman’s return to the company as CEO. But Sam is no fool, and is demanding that the entire board be replaced before he considers this. Whatever power he once had as CEO will now only be increased as he re-negotiates his position, assuming he returns at all.

Or, perhaps even more likely, he takes his team with him and starts a whole new company. Which is also a major possibility.

In any event, given all the twists and turns, we can confidently state that the fallout around Sam Altman’s dismissal was both chaotic and avoidable. It paints to a board governance that is at best shortsighted, and at worst envious of Sam Altman’s influence both within the company and the sphere of AI in general. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

Why Sam Altman Got Fired
Why Sam Altman Got Fired (Photo from New York Magazine)

What Creators Can Do to Protect from Getting Fired

How can we all avoid this same fate? Yes, this is rarified air, but there are some lessons we can all learn from, even if we just a company of one.

  1. Once you give up control of your company (to raise money, for example), there is little you can do to control your fate. Even building a company to 90+ billions dollars wasn’t enough in this case. So beware who you partner with, even if it does seem like a great deal at the time.
  2. If you are working for someone (either a boss or a board), have an agreement on what your goals and milestones are for the year, as well as how meeting those goals are remunerated back to you financially. Get it in writing if possible. That way, mis-communication can be minimized.
  3. Don’t be a jack-ass. By most accounts, Sam Altman is a good guy and respectful of those he works with. That’s why many on the OpenAI team have threatened to quit over his firing. Simply being a good person carries a lot of weight, both personally and professionally. The board could probably have taken notes from this approach.
  4. Never assume your job is going to last forever. It won’t. The only guarantee is that a curve-ball is coming. Prepare for it.

No doubt, AI in general has great ramifications across the Creator Space. Expect this to be discussed in depth here at CreatorThings.

For now, the Great Sam Altman Saga continues. Monday should bring with it some more dramatic news and updates. Keep your eyes on this space for more.

Got a hot tip or something you want us to report on? Reach out. 

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