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How Satya Nadella used Virat Kohli, World Cup to manage chaos around Sam Altman’s sacking from OpenAI


Microsoft-backed artificial intelligence research organization OpenAI went through some intense corporate chaos recently with its board firing and then reinstating Chief Executive Officer Sam Altman. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella personally participated in the intense boardroom struggle around the decisions and even used Virat Kohli and the World Cup to break the tensions. A report by The New Yorker shares elaborate details on the whole backchannel saga that led to Sam Altman’s exit and then his comeback.

OpenAI has been one of the most crucial investments for Microsoft for its artificial intelligence ambitions and over the years the tech giant has raised its stake in OpenAI. But, the tussle between the OpenAI board and CEO Sam Altman threatened the future of the project as Satya Nadella trusted the potential of Sam Altman and how things could fall apart in his absence.

The report talked about various strategies adopted by senior executives at Microsoft including Satya Nadella and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Kevin Scott to break the impasse and get Sam Altman back at the helm of the artificial intelligence research organization.

Why Sam Altman was fired?

For the background, OpenAI’s board consists of many academicians or people working in non-profit organizations. Things went downhill when one of the board members Helen Toner, director at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, at Georgetown University wrote a piece criticizing OpenAI for “stoking the flames of AI hype.” Sam Altman confronted her about the article and then allegedly conspired with the other board members to remove her from the board.

The thing didn’t go well with the board members who decided to fire Sam Altman accusing him of being “manipulative and conniving.”

From the minute Satya Nadella heard the news, he knew that OpenAI was in deep trouble and he immediately called his CTO Kevin Scott, who was behind Microsoft’s engagement with OpenAI. What followed was a long spell of intense discussions and using different strategies to get the OpenAI board to relent and reinstate Sam Altman as its CEO.

Satya Nadella’s World Cup fascination

Whenever things got rough in the negotiations, Satya Nadella used the ongoing World Cup to break the tensions and especially mentioned Virat Kohli’s stunning performance in the tournament. Most of Satya Nadella’s colleagues didn’t get what he was saying, but it was enough to distract them for a while.

Sam Altman again joined OpenAI as the CEO on 30 November, all thanks to its employees and senior leadership of Microsoft, who backed the young leader. “It took me a while to get over the ego and emotions,” Sam Altman said expressing his feelings when he first received the offer to be the CEO of OpenAI once again.

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Updated: 02 Dec 2023, 07:22 PM IST

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