Today, ChatGPT is a massively popular app accumulating millions of weekly users, yet, the artificial intelligence chatbot’s release on November 30, 2022, not only caused a major stir throughout the AI world but also among the app’s company board members. While Sam Altman has been reestablished in his role as CEO of OpenAI, former OpenAI board member, Helen Toner, opened up recently in a podcast as to what led to the American entrepreneur’s original ousting. 

While surprising the world with the termination of Altman’s position back in November 2023, the OpenAI board members were set on a pathway that led to Altman’s firing at the time of ChatGPT’s launch. Toner, who broke her silence this past Tuesday in a podcast, revealed one example of Altman’s behavior that concerned the board. Revealing that Altman neglected to inform OpenAI board members of the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022, Toner stated that the board only found out about the app’s release from Twitter (now known as X). Furthermore, the board members were unaware that the CEO owned the OpenAI startup fund, as well as “Inaccurate information about the small number of formal safety processes that the company did have in place,” according to Toner.

Toner explained, “The board is a nonprofit board that was set up explicitly for the purpose of making sure that the company’s public good mission was primary, was coming first—over profits, investor interests, and other things.” Unfortunately, OpenAI’s board members were struggling to do their job due to behaviors and dwindling trust in the company’s CEO.

However, the board was further challenged in how to handle their mistrust of Altman over his worrisome behaviors because of the lengths the CEO would go to prevent the board from performing their job. “It was very clear to all of us that as soon as Sam had any inkling that we might do something that went against him, he would pull out all the stops, do everything in his power to undermine the board, to prevent us from even getting to the point of being able to fire him,” Toner stated. 

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After the board spoke with two executives who shared uncomfortable experiences with Altman, which included problematic interactions and mistruths that revealed a toxic work environment, which further led to Altman’s firing, Toner stated, “All four of us who fired him came to the conclusion that we just couldn’t believe things that Sam was telling us, and that’s just a completely unworkable place to be in as a board—especially a board that is supposed to be providing independent oversight over the company, not just helping the CEO to raise more money.”

Yet, only a month after Altman’s firing, an outpouring of resignations, threats of resignations, and anger from investors led to the CEO’s rehiring within just a week. The rehiring also led to Toner’s, as well as Tasha McCauley’s, who had also voted to oust Altman, removal from the board. Another board member relinquished his seat after the return of Altman, leaving only one of the four board members who chose to fire Altman on the board. 

While there was an internal investigation regarding the conduct and events that led to Altman’s termination, the investigation found that the former board acted in good faith, unaware of the turbulence that would come from Altman’s removal.