Satya Nadella

What Satya Nadella gained for Microsoft after Sam Altman’s return to OpenAI

After recording the fifth episode of “The AI Artifacts Podcast” on Tuesday, my co-host Sarah Luger and I knew that the fluid situation surrounding Sam Altman’s firing and subsequent pressure to reinstate him as CEO at OpenAI was likely to remain in flux the following day. What we didn’t know was that a deal to secure his return would be in place Tuesday night. We updated the show notes accordingly, as negotiations continued for the installation of new board members (including Bret Taylor, Larry Summers, and Adam D’Angelo), along with the exits for existing board members Helen Toner, Tasha McCauley, and Ilya Sutskever.

Two days after Thanksgiving, despite Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella’s role in supporting Altman throughout OpenAI’s turbulent week, the Redmond, Washington-based tech giant did not appear to control one of those board seats. Its lack of a seat has been discussed at least as far back as when it announced its $10 billion investment in OpenAI, picking up a 49% stake in the company. Now, it’s possible pundits will continue to ponder in OpenAI’s new era as well, despite Microsoft’s obvious immediate benefits.

The company’s stock reached an all-time high as Altman agreed on terms to be CEO once again. Nadella helped make that happen and has received support on his handling of the situation from no less than former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer himself, The Wall Street Journal reported.

That story from Ben Cohen and Tom Dotan (with help from Keach Hagey) captures the balance and relationship dynamics that Nadella has managed throughout the OpenAI era for Microsoft, ultimately exercising power without a board seat to push the situation to its current point where Altman can thank him directly for the CEO’s chair in addition to OpenAI’s financial backing.

Microsoft’s dependence on an outside team to innovate and fuel the AI innovation to power cloud service may be a gamble. But it appears to be one wherein Nadella remains confident. So will he get (or does he ultimately need) a board seat to safeguard his investment? That answer seems to still be up in the air.

Featured image credit: via Flickr, WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM/ Valeriano DiDomenico (licensed under the terms of the CC BY 2.0)