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FirstFT: OpenAI staff revolt puts pressure on board to bring back Sam Altman

FirstFT: OpenAI staff revolt puts pressure on board to bring back Sam Altman

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Good morning. A staff revolt at OpenAI has put pressure on directors at the world’s leading artificial intelligence company to bring back ousted chief executive Sam Altman after a botched boardroom coup.

A letter to the board signed by more than 500 of OpenAI’s 770 employees yesterday said the directors had “undermined our mission and company” by the way they fired Altman and his co-founder Greg Brockman on Friday.

After failed talks to reinstate Altman on Sunday, in which he demanded the board resign as a price for his return, Microsoft announced that it had hired the 38-year-old entrepreneur and Brockman to head a new AI unit.

The hundreds of OpenAI staff who signed the letter said they had been offered positions in the new unit at Microsoft, the software company that is also OpenAI’s biggest investor, and “will take this step imminently, unless all current board members resign, and the board appoints two new lead independent directors”. Read more on the turmoil at the ChatGPT maker.

Here’s what else I’m keeping tabs on today:

  • US Fed minutes: Investors will be watching the release of the Federal Reserve’s minutes from its November meeting for hints on whether the central bank might raise interest rates again this year.

  • Companies: Chipmaker Nvidia and Chinese tech giant Baidu report earnings.

Five more top stories

1. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi called for “an immediate ceasefire” in Israel’s war with Hamas yesterday as he received a delegation of Arab and Muslim leaders in Beijing. The visit comes amid mounting frustration in Middle Eastern countries at the refusal of the US to back a ceasefire, and as China steps up efforts to bolster its influence in the region.

2. Investors have cheered the victory of radical libertarian Javier Milei in Argentina’s presidential election despite worries about a rocky government transition and huge economic challenges ahead. Argentine stocks and bonds rose in trading outside the country after the television economist, whose campaign centred on a pledge to take a “chainsaw” to the state, won a decisive victory in Sunday’s election.

3. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for urgent operational changes in Ukraine’s army as he sacked the commander of the medical forces. The call was followed by an unannounced visit to Kyiv by US defence secretary Lloyd Austin, who reassured Ukraine’s leaders of Washington’s “steadfast support”. Here’s the latest from Kyiv.

4. Linda Yaccarino is resisting growing pressure from advertisers to step down as the chief executive of X, as big brands pause their spending on the platform over concerns about its owner Elon Musk and antisemitic content. Executives and friends of Yaccarino from the advertising industry have privately urged her to resign in order to save her reputation.

5. International companies are rushing to set up their own back offices in India as they seek to develop technology in house. But industry experts said the back-office boom in India has sparked a “huge war for talent” with traditional IT service providers such as Infosys and TCS.

News in-depth

Most analysts believe that the central government’s real debt obligations are much bigger than the numbers suggest © Bloomberg

This month, China’s new finance minister Lan Fo’an told markets what they had been waiting to hear: Beijing would boost budget spending to support a delicate post-pandemic recovery in the world’s second-largest economy. But many analysts question just how much budgetary firepower Beijing really has to boost flagging confidence in the economy and drive stronger momentum for growth.

We’re also reading . . . 

  • Workless Hongkongers in the UK: Many employers are unaware of this untapped talent pool, writes Heather Rolfe. Yet recruiting migrants from Hong Kong offers a solution to the UK’s chronic skills shortages.

  • The Ozempic effect: Industries ranging from fast food to health and fitness are seeing their core business models disrupted by weight-loss drugs, writes Rana Foroohar.

  • Israel, Oppenheimer and the laws of war: Legality and morality are not always the same thing in wartime, writes Gideon Rachman.

Map of the day

Map and chart showing percentage of buildings damaged across the 5 districts of Gaza. More than 50% of buildings in the two northern districts are likely to have been damaged since October 7

Israel’s military has laid waste to much of northern Gaza, badly damaging more than half of the buildings and large swaths of entire neighbourhoods during its 42 day offensive, according to analysis of satellite data.

Take a break from the news

Matsusaka is the most revered of all Wagyu (or Japanese) beef, but it’s only now starting to appear in restaurants outside Asia. Ajesh Patalay’s guide to the world’s best beef tells where you can find this ultimate melt-in-the-mouth steak, and other prime cuts.

Steak at Maria Akaneya in Paris
Steak at Maria Akaneya in Paris © José Salto

Additional contributions from Grace Ramos and Gordon Smith

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