Is Sam Altman joining Microsoft? Satya Nadella doesn’t seem to know

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 AI research team, an announcement that sent Microsoft’s stock price soaring. Now, less than 24 hours later, following The Verge reporting that Sam Altman is still trying to return as OpenAI CEO, Nadella doesn’t seem so sure.

“[We’re] committed to OpenAI and Sam, irrespective of what configuration,” said Nadella in an interview with CNBC’s Jon Fortt, adding that Microsoft “chose to explicitly partner with OpenAI [and] obviously that depends on the people at OpenAI staying there or coming to Microsoft, so I’m open to both options.” Nadella added that “obviously we 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’m exactly where I was on Friday morning.”

On Friday morning Nadella woke up with Sam Altman still OpenAI CEO and a close partnership with the company. Hours later the OpenAI board chose to fire Sam Altman in a shock decision, and it sure sounds like Nadella wishes he could hit the reset button back to Friday morning.

Pressed on whether Altman and the hundreds of OpenAI employees threatening to resign will actually join Microsoft, Nadella responded “that is for OpenAI board and management and the employees to choose,” before explaining Microsoft already has its own AI capabilities, a message clearly meant to calm jittery investors and worried OpenAI customers.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV just moments later, anchor Emily Chang tried to get more out of Nadella on the Altman and Brockman hiring announcement. Are they actually Microsoft employees? “So they’re all in the process of joining,” replied Nadella, before quickly pivoting to talking about Microsoft’s own AI work again.

Reading between the lines of these strained interviews, it’s clear Nadella wants what Altman and hundreds of OpenAI employees want: the OpenAI board gone. He didn’t explicitly say that, but he was more willing to talk about board changes to Bloomberg TV than the potential for Sam Altman to be an actual Microsoft employee:

I think we will definitely want some governance changes. Surprises are bad and we just want to make sure that things are done in a way that will allow is to continue to partner well. This idea that somehow suddenly changes happen without being in the loop is not good and we will definitely ensure that some of the changes that are needed happen and we continue to be able to go along with the partnership with OpenAI.

I reported earlier today that Sam Altman isn’t showing up in Microsoft’s corporate directory yet, according to multiple sources. That’s not hugely surprising as Microsoft’s HR and onboarding processes aren’t set up for 24-hour emergency deals, but Microsoft also hasn’t detailed the appointment to employees in any internal company-wide memos yet. If Altman is fully onboarded to Microsoft then he’ll have a CEO title inside Microsoft, which is typically reserved for the leaders of big divisions like Microsoft Gaming, or acquired companies like LinkedIn and GitHub.

So Sam Altman looks set to continue to be a CEO. The question still remains whether that’s at Microsoft, or OpenAI.


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