Wednesday, February 28

OpenAI is hiring former Twitch chief Emmett Shear as CEO

Emmett Shear, former CEO of Twitch, in a Bloomberg Television interview in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

OpenAI is bringing in former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear to run the artificial intelligence company, two days after the sudden ouster of Sam Altman, CNBC has confirmed.

The hiring of Shear was the latest turn in a chaotic weekend at one of the most high-profile startups on the planet. OpenAI’s board announced late Friday that it was removing Altman and replacing him on an interim basis with technology chief Mira Murati. The post said that Altman “was not consistently candid in his communications with the board.” Altman will now be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team.

The Information and Bloomberg both reported on the hiring of Shear earlier. The news was confirmed to CNBC by a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because the discussions were confidential. An OpenAI spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

‘Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’

Shear confirmed overnight that he had accepted the role as interim CEO of OpenAI, which he described as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“I took this job because I believe that OpenAI is one of the most important companies currently in existence. When the board shared the situation and asked me to take the role, I did not make the decision lightly. Ultimately I felt that I had a duty to help if I could,” he said.

Shear said he believed the process of removing Altman as CEO of OpenAI had been “handled very badly,” adding that this has damaged trust in the company.

“Before I took the job, I checked on the reasoning behind the change. The board did *not* remove Sam over any specific disagreement on safety, their reasoning was completely different from that,” Shear said.

“I’m not crazy enough to take this job without board support for commercializing our awesome models,” he said.

Shear said he had spent the day with OpenAI’s board, as well as employees and several key partners, and outlined his initial 30-day plan. This will include an investigation and report into the process that led to the current situation.

Shear added that he will also introduce changes, including in OpenAI’s governance if needed. He also reiterated that OpenAI’s partnership with Microsoft “remains strong.”

Altman joins Microsoft

Altman, meanwhile, is set to join Microsoft where he will lead a new advanced AI research team, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said late Sunday.

“We’re extremely excited to share the news that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team. We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success,” Nadella said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. Altman himself reshared Nadella’s post, adding a somewhat cryptic comment to it: “the mission continues.”

Shortly after the OpenAI board’s announcement on Friday, a group of prominent investors, including Microsoft, Tiger Global, Thrive Capital and Sequoia Capital began working to reverse the move. None of those firms have board seats, and they were caught unaware by the board’s decision.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, late Saturday night, Altman wrote, “i love the openai team so much.” Murati was one of many OpenAI employees who responded with a heart sign.

OpenAI, which was reportedly in talks as recently as last month to sell employee shares to investors at an $86 billion valuation, emerged as a household name this year after releasing its ChatGPT chatbot in late 2022. ChatGPT allows users to type in simple text queries and retrieve smart-sounding answers that can lead to more in-depth conversations.

Altman had been leading the company since 2019 and was serving as both the top executive of a high-flying company and the public face of artificial intelligence research and product development.

Unlike most Silicon Valley startups, OpenAI wasn’t structured like a typical corporation with large chunks of equity controlled by the founders. Rather, it was part of a nonprofit that was started in 2015. The board oversees the nonprofit, which “acts as the overall governing body for all OpenAI activities,” according to Friday’s blog post.

Shear stepped down as CEO of Twitch, the livestreaming service now owned by Amazon, in March. Shear co-founded, a predecessor to Twitch, in 2007. He has also been a part-time partner at startup accelerator Y Combinator, which Altman ran before joining OpenAI.

— CNBC’s Ari Levy and Sophie Kiderlin contributed to this report

WATCH: Madrona’s Matt McIlwain talks Sam Altman’s departure as OpenAI CEO

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