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‘Surprises Are Bad’: What Microsoft’s CEO Said on TV About OpenAI Drama

Written by Kevin TruongPublished Nov. 20, 2023 • 5:00pm
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at a clear podium at the APEC CEO Summit in San Francisco.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at the APEC CEO Summit in San Francisco. | Source: Courtesy HeadShots Inc.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella went on television Monday afternoon to speak to Bloomberg's Emily Chang in his first public interview since OpenAI CEO Sam Altman was fired, which kicked off chaos at one of the leaders in the artificial intelligence field.

Although Microsoft was reportedly blindsided by the move, Nadella acted swiftly and soon announced that Altman and OpenAI co-founder and President Greg Brockman would be joining his company to lead an advanced AI research team.

"We really want to partner with OpenAI, and we want to partner with Sam, so irrespective of where Sam is, he's working with Microsoft," Nadella said. "That was the case on Friday, that's the case today, and I absolutely believe that will be the case tomorrow."

However, Nadella did say that he was seeking governance changes at OpenAI to stop a similar situation from happening again.

"Surprises are bad, and we just want to make sure that things are done in a way that will allow us to continue to partner well," Nadella said, alluding to the addition of a board seat for the company.

According to Nadella, Altman and Brockman are not quite Microsoft employees yet and are "in the process of joining."

In response to concerns that Altman's startup mentality may chafe within the confines of a big tech company like Microsoft, Nadella noted his "broad interests and broad investments."

"He would only want to work at Microsoft if he would want to spend his full time on really pursuing the mission," Nadella said.

Over the course of the 10-minute interview, Nadella did a fair amount of hedging between his loyalties to OpenAI and Altman, mentioning the former CEO's name more than a dozen times.

Nadella said he has spoken with the newly appointed CEO Emmett Shear but turned his answer into a bit of a recruiting pitch for OpenAI talent.

READ MORE: New OpenAI Boss Emmett Shear's Twitter History Makes for Bizarre Reading

"My message to Emmett is very clear, which is: 'Hey look, remain very, very committed to OpenAI and its mission and its sort of road map, and they can count on us,'" Nadella said.

"We are also committed to Sam and Greg and team that want to join us if they're not at OpenAI or anyone else who's at OpenAI and wants to somewhere else; we want them to come to Microsoft and continue to work here," Nadella said.

Nadella added that he was not informed about Altman's alleged involvement in wrongdoing that led to his firing.

In a blog post announcing his dismissal, the OpenAI board said that Altman "was not consistently candid in his communications with the board."

Nadella said he was not "told by anyone from their board about any issues, and so therefore, I remain confident in Sam and his leadership and capabilities."

Questioned about the legal and regulatory issues arising from the situation around OpenAI, Nadella said he'll "let the lawyers sort of figure out what the liabilities are."

"I think we have all the capability, all the [intellectual property] and all the things that we need in order to continue to essentially control our destiny here," Nadella said.

Microsoft has invested some $13 billion into OpenAI and has grown its ownership stake to 49% of OpenAI’s capped profit arm. 

Microsoft has negotiated contracts that gave it rights to OpenAI intellectual property, copies of source code and insight into the “weights” OpenAI uses for its models, essentially how large language models are tuned to create desired outputs, according to reporting from The New York Times.

As for who will be in the OpenAI CEO seat tomorrow? Nadella said he'll "leave it up to OpenAI and its board."

Kevin Truong can be reached at

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