Business Maverick

Business Maverick

OpenAI encourages staff to focus on work despite boardroom chaos

OpenAI encourages staff to focus on work despite boardroom chaos
OpenAI co-founder Sam Altman. He was fired on 17 November. (Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg)

It’s time to “get back to shipping” products, a senior OpenAI manager told staff on Tuesday, part of an effort to get the company focused on developing software and forging partnerships instead of the will-he-won’t-he drama over whether Sam Altman, summarily fired by the board on Friday, will return to the chief executive officer role.

In a message to OpenAI employees on Tuesday, Peter Deng, a vice president of product, said that “we decided that the best way to channel our energy” is developing products, according to a note reviewed by Bloomberg. 

The memo was drafted in an effort to spread the message that OpenAI is still open for business, and comes as its customers have grown worried about tumult at the company, according to a person familiar with the decision making. Many OpenAI clients have sought reassurances that the company remains operational even as it races to figure out who its next CEO will be and prevent its employees from staging a mass resignation.

Deng also said that the company would make its Voice product available for free for ChatGPT users, a move it also posted about on X, formerly Twitter. The Voice feature lets the chatbot respond to spoken questions and commands with its own speech. That release had been previously planned, according to a person familiar with the situation who asked to remain anonymous discussing private information. 

Making matters worse for OpenAI on Tuesday, its best-known product, the chatbot ChatGPT, was unavailable to some users during the afternoon. According to a company webpage that tracks the status of its online services, ChatGPT and OpenAI’s application programming interface services experienced a partial outage starting after 2pm Pacific time. 

OpenAI’s status tracker posted that the issue causing the outage “has been identified and a fix is being implemented,” though it hadn’t been resolved hours later. In a post on X, a member of the company’s developer relations staff, Logan Kilpatrick, acknowledged the issue and said it “should be resolved shortly”.

Deng’s message to staff, which was posted on an internal Slack channel, was upbeat. He said that employees could order pizza and expense it. Most of them aren’t in the office because the company has Thanksgiving week off. “Raise a slice and share a photo in the thread so we can enjoy this moment together,” Deng wrote. He signed off, “One team, one mission” with a pizza emoji.

The fate of OpenAI has been in limbo for days, starting with the board of directors’ shock firing of Altman on Friday, followed by high-stakes negotiations to get him reinstated. Almost all of the company’s employees have said they would resign from OpenAI if Altman were not brought back, among other demands. 

People familiar with the negotiations around possibly returning Altman to the company have said that the groups want to reach a resolution before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Stressing that the company was still operating despite the boardroom chaos, Deng pointed to a post on X from Chief Operating Officer Brad Lightcap, in which the COO emphasised OpenAI’s commitment to customers. In the post, Lightcap was responding to the suggestion that competitors were trying to capitalise on the company’s leadership upheaval to poach its business. 

Deng said in the note that the company met with Boston Consulting Group Tuesday morning to discuss expanding its partnership with OpenAI, and that BCG complemented its “mojo with culture and leadership”. In the memo, Deng said, “We are grateful to have heard from dozens of customers who emphasised their support.”


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