Most of OpenAI's staff threatens to quit unless the board resigns and reinstates Sam Altman as CEO

'OpenAI is nothing without its people,' several of them wrote on X.

AP Photo/Eric Risberg

The OpenAI chaos took another twist on Monday morning as most of the company's staff threatened to quit unless the board resigns and reinstates former CEO Sam Altman and ex-president Greg Brockman. According to Wired and Kara Swisher, around 500 employees — including several executives — signed the letter at the outset.

By Monday afternoon, the number of signatories had swelled to more than 700, according to Bloomberg. That's almost all of the company's approximately 770 employees. Several staff members, including Chief Technical Officer Mira Murati (who held the company's top job on an interim basis for less than a weekend), wrote on X early Monday that "OpenAI is nothing without its people."

The letter to the board is the latest development in a series of events that started on Friday afternoon, when OpenAI's board fired Altman. The board claimed Altman had not been "consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities." As such, the board felt it no longer had "confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI." Brockman told OpenAI staff in an email on Friday that he was resigning as chairman "based on today's news."

Chief Operating Officer Brad Lightcap later said in a leaked internal memo that Altman was sacked due to “a breakdown in communication,” not “malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices.”

Altman and Brockman held crunch talks with OpenAI's board over the weekend in an attempt to get their jobs back. But those discussions did not work out in the favor of the former CEO and chairman. It emerged late Sunday night that the board had instead opted to hire former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear as OpenAI's interim chief executive.

There was yet another major development late Sunday/early Monday morning, as Microsoft hired Altman, Brockman and several of their former OpenAI colleagues to head up a new advanced AI research team. Microsoft is OpenAI's biggest investor and it's using the company's tech to help power its generative AI-driven products such as Copilot. The news of Altman's firing reportedly caught Microsoft by surprise. Even though there were suggestions that Satya Nadella has effectively acquihired OpenAI for free, the Microsoft CEO said his company remains "committed to our partnership with OpenAI."

Although Nadella says Altman, Brockman and others now seemingly have new positions at Microsoft, that may not yet be a done deal. According to The Verge, Altman and Brockman may still get their jobs back at OpenAI if the board steps aside.

If Altman and Brockman don't return to OpenAI, hundreds of employees may end up joining them at Microsoft. In their letter, OpenAI employees accused the board of acting against the best interests of the company.

"Your actions have made it obvious that you are incapable of overseeing OpenAI. We are unable to work for or with people that lack competence, judgement and care for our mission and employees," the letter reads. "We, the undersigned, may choose to resign from OpenAI and join the newly announced Microsoft subsidiary run by Sam Altman and Greg Brockman. Microsoft has assured us that there are positions for all OpenAI employees at this new subsidiary should we choose to join. We will take this step imminently, unless all current board members resign, and the board appoints two new lead independent directors, such as Bret Taylor and Will Hurd, and reinstates Sam Altman and Greg Brockman."

Ilya Sutskever, an OpenAI board member and the company’s chief scientist, was reportedly the person who coordinated the coup against Altman. However, Sutskever has now expressed regret for "my participation in the board's action" and pledged to do "do everything I can to reunite the company." Sutskever is one of the letter's several hundred signees.

Update 11/20 2:33PM ET: Updated to reflect that more than 700 OpenAI employees have signed the letter. Also noted that Altman and Brockman's move to Microsoft isn't necessarily a done deal.