Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced late last night that former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman were both joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced research team on AI, an announcement that sent Microsoft’s stock price skyrocketing. Today, less than 24 hours later, continued The edge reporting that Sam Altman is still trying to return as CEO of OpenAI, Nadella doesn’t seem so sure.
“(We are) committed to OpenAI and Sam, whatever the configuration,” Nadella said in an interview with CNBC’s Jon Fortt, adding that Microsoft “has chosen to explicitly partner with OpenAI (and) that obviously depends on the whether the OpenAI people stay there or come to Microsoft, so I’m open to both options. Nadella added that “we obviously want Sam and Greg to have a fantastic home if they’re not going to be (at) OpenAI, with all the colleagues at Microsoft, but I am exactly where I was on Friday morning.”
On Friday morning, Nadella woke up to Sam Altman, still CEO of OpenAI and in close partnership with the company. Hours later, OpenAI’s board chose to fire Sam Altman in a shock decision, and it appears Nadella wants to be able to hit the reset button until Friday morning.
When asked whether Altman and the hundreds of OpenAI employees threatening to quit would actually join Microsoft, Nadella said “it’s up to the OpenAI board, management and employees to choose,” before explaining that Microsoft already has its own AI capabilities, a message clearly intended to calm nervous investors and worried OpenAI customers.
In an interview with Bloomberg TV moments later, anchor Emily Chang attempted to get more from Nadella on the Altman and Brockman hiring announcement. Are they really Microsoft employees? “So they’re all joining us,” Nadella replied, before quickly returning to Microsoft’s work in AI.
Reading between the lines of these tense interviews, it’s clear that Nadella wants what Altman and hundreds of OpenAI employees want: the OpenAI board disappears. He didn’t say it explicitly, but he was more willing to talk about changes to the Bloomberg TV board than the possibility of Sam Altman becoming an actual Microsoft employee:
I think we will certainly want changes in governance. Surprises are bad and we just want to make sure that things are done in a way that allows us to continue to collaborate well. This idea that changes are suddenly happening without being aware is not good and we will certainly ensure that some of the necessary changes happen and we will continue to be able to support the partnership with OpenAI.
I reported earlier today that Sam Altman was not yet listed in Microsoft’s corporate directory, according to multiple sources. This is not very surprising since Microsoft’s HR and onboarding processes are not set up for 24-hour emergency offers, but Microsoft has not yet detailed the appointment of employees in any internal memo to the company scale. If Altman is fully integrated into Microsoft, he will gain a CEO title within Microsoft, typically reserved for leaders of large divisions like Microsoft Gaming or acquired companies like LinkedIn and GitHub.
Sam Altman therefore seems ready to continue as CEO. The question still remains whether it is at Microsoft or at OpenAI.