Passions around OpenAI do not subside: What is Microsoft doing and how did the situation with dismissal of Sam Altman affect company's shares?

November 22, 2023  12:02

Microsoft, OpenAI's largest investor, said it is ready to hire all employees who left the startup after Sam Altman was fired and keep their previous salaries. However, the company is not against Altman's return to OpenAI.

Interestingly, the OpenAI scandal had a positive impact on Microsoft's reputation and share price.

Microsoft shares soar to highs

The price of Microsoft securities increased by 2% and reached record values: by the close of trading on the NASDAQ exchange on Monday, the company's shares were selling at $377.44 per share - this is their maximum value in the entire history of the company. This growth was fueled by the OpenAI scandal and Microsoft's decision to hire the startup's former CEO, Sam Altman, along with everyone else who left the startup after him, including co-founder Greg Brockman.

According to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Altman and Brockman will lead an advanced research group in the field of artificial intelligence, which will be able to use the computing power of Microsoft in its work.

RBC Capital Markets Managing Director Rishi Jaluria calls the end result "a huge coup for Microsoft."

“I think everyone is concerned that the pace of innovation might slow down, and that the artificial intelligence halo Microsoft has enjoyed will begin to dissipate. Customers will start to worry. I think Sam and Greg coming in, and Sam is truly a great visionary in artificial intelligence, is the best case scenario for Microsoft,” Jaluria said.

Could Sam Altman return to OpenAI?

According to Bloomberg, Sam Altman and members of the OpenAI board of directors have begun a new round of negotiations about the possibility of Altman returning to the post of CEO. Pressure from investors and employees, most of whom may follow Altman, appears to be playing an important role here.

Anonymous sources for the publication report that Altman is in negotiations with at least one of the members of the OpenAI board of directors, Adam D’Angelo. Some of the company's investors are also participating in the discussions - many of them are pushing for Altman to be reinstated as CEO, which is to be expected: investors want stability for the startup in which they are investing. Such shareholders include Thrive Capital, Khosla Ventures and Tiger Global Management.

According to one of Bloomberg's sources, Altman, under one possible scenario, could return to OpenAI as chairman of the transition board of directors. The possibility of selecting former Salesforce CEO Bret Taylor as the new chairman of the board of directors of OpenAI is also being considered.

OpenAI's vice president of global affairs, Anna Makanju, recently sent a memo to employees saying the company was in "intense discussions" with the board, Altman and new CEO Emmett Shear "about a combination." This message was sent some time after the majority of OpenAI employees threatened to quit if Altman was not reinstated.

The reason for Altman's dismissal remains a mystery

Interestingly, the exact reason for Altman's dismissal is still unknown. The board initially explained its decision by saying that "the CEO was not consistently forthcoming in his communications with the board of directors, which interfered with his ability to carry out his duties." But board members later confirmed that Altman's dismissal was not related to "malfeasance" or "safety."

It is possible that even Microsoft management does not know the reason for Altman’s dismissal: Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, publicly stated that he was not given any explanation. According to Western media sources, even the new interim CEO Emmet Shear still does not know about the real reasons for Altman’s evasion. Shear is said to have even said that he has no plans to remain at OpenAI unless the board of directors can clearly explain to him the reasons for Altman's sudden dismissal.

Microsoft will demand reforms in OpenAI

Microsoft, judging by public statements by company representatives, is not against Altman’s return to OpenAI. But regardless of how the Altman story ends, Microsoft will insist on reforming OpenAI's governance structure. CEO Satya Nadella has openly stated that OpenAI needs serious business management reforms.

Currently, OpenAI is run by the non-profit entity that owns just 2% of the shares. At the same time, Microsoft with its 49% stake (Microsoft has already invested about $13 billion in OpenAI capital) not only does not have a representative on the board of directors, but also learns about strategic changes at the last moment. Most likely, Microsoft will require OpenAI to make changes to its business management structure that would provide more predictability and, ideally, allow the corporation to have influence over strategic decisions.

As Bloomberg reports, citing its own sources, Microsoft would like to increase the size of OpenAI's board of directors and introduce higher qualification requirements for its members.

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