The five-day ordeal over who would lead OpenAI appears settled, with Sam Altman agreeing to return.Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
Overnight, OpenAI announced that it had an “agreement in principal” to reinstall Sam Altman as C.E.O., while the board members who pushed him out are departing. The news was greeted rapturously by the ChatGPT creator’s employees, most of whom had threatened to quit and join Altman at Microsoft.
The move ended five days of drama that had gripped Silicon Valley and beyond. Altman and those focused more on commercializing the technology came out ahead of those worried about its apocalyptic potential. But the episode raises questions about what comes next.
OpenAI’s board will be revamped. Gone are Tasha McCauley, Helen Toner and Ilya Sutskever, three of the four directors who ousted Altman. An “interim” board will take over, led by Bret Taylor, the former Salesforce co-C.E.O., and including Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary, and Adam D’Angelo, the Quora C.E.O. and a holdover from the last board.
That board will help select a bigger permanent one, according to The Verge, which may include representation for Microsoft, OpenAI’s biggest investor. Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s C.E.O., called the development “a first essential step on a path to more stable, well-informed, and effective governance.” It’s not clear what other changes are coming.
Business interests gained ground on so-called doomerism. An investigation into Altman’s conduct and why he was fired appears likely, especially since the board reportedly couldn’t produce specific examples of his being not candid.
But the restoration of Altman, along with potential board representation for Microsoft and other investors, undeniably elevates those pushing for rapid innovation and commercialization. The outgoing board had been worried about OpenAI moving too fast to advance A.I., without regard for potentially disastrous consequences for humanity.
That’s not to say the new board won’t be worried about safety — a primary principle in the company’s charter — but the profit motive may get a bigger say.
But a Pandora’s box of consequences may have been opened. The European Union and governments in countries including the U.S. and Britain have been weighing how to restrain the fast-growing technology to limit harm. A close-up look at the inherently unstable governance of an industry leader — and how close Microsoft came to building an in-house super-A.I. group overnight — could prompt tougher action.
There’s also the possibility that this drama could repeat itself, given that OpenAI is reportedly going to maintain its now-infamously convoluted structure, according to The Information. (Along those lines: With commercial interests having a bigger say in OpenAI, will the I.R.S. and California, where the organization is based, still regard the company as a nonprofit?)
And there’s the question of whether companies should be run according to the philosophy of effective altruism, whose adherents include D’Angelo, McCauley and Toner. (Jaan Tallinn, the Skype co-founder who has promoted the philosophy, is among the skeptics.)
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Israel and Hamas agree to a cease-fire and the release of some hostages. At least 50 people captured in Hamas’s assault last month will be freed, and Israel will release 150 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, according to Qatar, which helped lead the negotiations. The cease-fire’s start will be announced within the next 24 hours, and it will last for at least four days.
The Fed doesn’t see rate cuts anytime soon. Minutes published on Tuesday from the central bank’s Federal Open Market Committee’s November meeting revealed that the bank is happy to hold rates steady for the rest of the year with inflation well above its 2 percent target. The futures market this morning sees the Fed keeping rates unchanged at its December meeting.
The U.S. reportedly foiled a plot to kill a Sikh separatist on American soil. The authorities thwarted a plan to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, an American and Canadian citizen, and warned the Indian government over the matter, according to The Financial Times. Washington told some allies about the apparent plan after the Canadian government in September linked the Indian government to the killing of a Sikh separatist there.
A return to normality for corporate governance?
Among the big questions raised by the OpenAI ordeal is why venture capital firms again poured money into a company with extraordinarily weak corporate governance. Consider that the ChatGPT creator may be valued at about $86 billion in a potential stock sale, but investors (so far) have zero seats on its board.
The near-implosion of OpenAI and the collapse of FTX last year have reawakened investors to the need for more say in how companies are run, venture capitalists told DealBook. But there are limits to how far that will go.
For years, many venture capitalists have sought to appease start-ups, hoping for a chance to invest in the next blockbuster. Firms would call themselves “founder-friendly” by supporting multiclass stock structures that gave entrepreneurs outsize control, taking common stock with no special voting rights or, in the case of FTX and OpenAI, not taking a board seat.
But the end of the recent start-up boom may embolden investors to take a stand. “You’re going to see more and more focus on traditional corporate governance” going forward, said Michael Brown, a partner at Battery Ventures. (He isn’t involved in FTX or OpenAI.) “There will be more of a focus on having traditional boards and on how these companies operate.”
DealBook also hears that limited partners in these investment firms had begun pushing the funds to hold firm on corporate governance to protect their investments.
There are limits to how far venture firms will probably go. For fast-growing industries where venture capitalists are racing to get a piece of the next big thing — the percentage of U.S. start-up investments going into A.I. business this year has doubled from last year — fear of missing out may override caution.
And venture capitalists concede that the big-name firms that have been stung by corporate governance failures — Sequoia backed FTX and is in OpenAI, along with Andreessen Horowitz, Khosla Ventures and Thrive Capital — are unlikely to receive lasting blowback from limited partners over those episodes. After all, those investors are chasing big returns, too.
Another crypto king is dethroned
Changpeng Zhao, the Binance founder who was featured on magazine covers as the billionaire entrepreneur with the golden touch, will step down from his crypto empire and pay $50 million after pleading guilty to money-laundering and sanctions-violation charges.
It’s another blow to an industry already reeling from the downfall of Zhao’s business rival and onetime protégé, Sam Bankman-Fried of the collapsed crypto exchange FTX, and a widening regulatory crackdown.
The Justice Department on Tuesday ordered Binance to pay a $4.3 billion fine. Binance and Zhao, who also goes by C.Z., pleaded guilty to federal charges that involved failing to screen suspicious transactions by Hamas, Al Qaeda and ISIS flowing through the world’s largest crypto exchange.
Under the deal, the firm has agreed to step up compliance, and an independent monitor will oversee it. Zhao will be barred from any involvement in Binance until three years after the monitor is appointed. Binance’s token, BNB, tanked on the news.
The agreement was announced just weeks after the conviction of Bankman-Fried, who could face more than 100 years in prison. Zhao’s deal defers sentencing for several months; he faces a maximum prison term of 10 years. Zhao admitted he was “a little bit scared” during his Seattle court appearance on Tuesday.
Zhao is a towering figure in crypto. “I made mistakes, and I must take responsibility,” Zhao wrote in a post on X to his 8.7 million followers. Born in China and raised in Canada, he began his career in traditional finance before pivoting to crypto and starting Binance in 2017.
Zhao repeatedly promised that his company adhered to global rules, but critics, like the economist Nouriel Roubini, warned last year that Binance was a “walking time bomb.”
Binance has been under scrutiny in the U.S. for years. In addition to admitting on Tuesday that it failed to prevent and report suspicious transactions involving terrorist groups, Binance also settled a case with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The arrangement is intended to keep Binance in business, but the company suffered about $1 billion worth of outflows after the news broke.
Nvidia rides the A.I. wave, but China worries loom
Nvidia shares dipped in premarket trading this morning despite the world’s most valuable chip maker delivering another set of blowout results that tech bulls say justify the sky-high hype around artificial intelligence.
Third-quarter earnings — and the company’s rosy sales outlook — were particularly impressive given the Biden administration’s export restrictions on selling high-end chips to China, analysts said. Still, the company warned that the simmering Beijing-Washington trade war would inevitably hit its bottom line.
Here are the numbers that stood out:
Revenues more than tripled year-on-year to $18.1 billion — $2 billion higher than analysts’ expectations. Bumper sales for Nvidia’s graphic processing units that run A.I. applications stood out.
Over the same period, profits were up nearly fourteenfold to $4.02 a share.
Nvidia predicts more growth, with revenues expected to reach $20 billion this quarter.
Nvidia’s stock has ridden the A.I. buzz to record highs. Shares are up more than 300 percent in the past year, propelling the company into the trillion-dollar valuation club. “The growth in its market value since ChatGPT first arrived on the scene has been astonishing,” Derren Nathan, an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, wrote in an investor note.
But is its growth sustainable? The company reported a solid quarter for its data center and gaming divisions. The China question looms large, though.
“Export controls will have a negative effect on our China business, and we do not have good visibility into the magnitude of that impact even over the long term,” Colette Kress, the company’s C.F.O., told analysts. Nvidia is developing newly compliant chips for the Chinese market. But the company doesn’t see them making up for the lost business in the near future.
THE SPEED READ
The F.T.C. is reportedly examining Roark Capital’s $10 billion bid to buy the Subway sandwich shop chain over competition concerns. (Politico)
The financier Ken Griffin is said to be in talks with Stephen Ross to buy a minority stake in the Miami Dolphins, the Hard Rock Stadium and Formula 1’s Miami Grand Prix. (Bloomberg)
The British government may investigate Jeff Zucker’s proposed deal to buy the Telegraph Media Group, a bid backed by Abu Dhabi. (Bloomberg, NYT)
The head of a Chinese online gaming company has been arrested, becoming the latest corporate leader to be jailed in the country. (CNN)
A special committee will investigate the F.D.I.C.’s deteriorating workplace culture. (WSJ)
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