Skift Take

Will Sam Altman return to OpenAI? Will he bring Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky along with him as an OpenAI director? The competition will be intense for any board openings.

Update: Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella announced November 20 that ousted OpenAI CEO Sam Altman would be joining Microsoft as CEO to head a new group within the company. So Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky potentially becoming an OpenAI board member was not going to happen. In a twist, on November 22, OpenAi announced that Altman would be returning as CEO. Chesky was reportedly involved in some of the talks involving Altman and OpenAI.

From his posts and re-posts on X, it’s clear that Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky is highly supportive of Sam Altman, the ousted CEO of OpenAI, and now-former board Chairman Greg Brockman, and Chesky seems to be in-the-know about some of the maneuverings behind the scenes.

One knowledgeable source told Skift that Chesky could get appointed to a highly coveted OpenAI board seat if Altman indeed returns to OpenAI.

An Airbnb spokesperson had no comment on the issue.

The situation is very fluid with the OpenAi board said to be negotiating Altman’s return following an intense backlash, according to published reports. Some have referred to Altman’s sudden firing Friday as a board “coup” — a characterization that Chesky reposted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Scramble for OpenAI Board Seats?

It’s likely the scramble is on to fill board openings on a reconstituted board if Altman returns to the company, which launched ChatGPT a year ago, and quickly climbed to a $90 billion valuation. Tech journalist Kara Swisher reported that Altman would re-assume his position only if Microsoft, which invested billions in OpenAI and its generative AI software, and “some other big names” get board posts.

Chesky would be one such big name as a board appointee, and one who is tight with Altman, and shares much of OpenAI’s vision for the potential of the generative AI revolution.

The Information reported Sunday that the OpenAi board invited Altman and Brockman to headquarters today to discuss their return. Chief Strategy Officer Jason Kwon expressed “optimism” to staff about the duo’s return as well as that of three senior researchers who exited the company is support of Altman and Brockman on the day of Altman’s firing and Brockman’s resignation.

Airbnb and Generative AI

In a Skift interview in May, Chesky said generative AI would radically change the nature of Airbnb as early as 2024.

An Airbnb proxy statement in April did not list Chesky as having any outside board seats.

The current board has governance over OpenAi’s 501 (c) (3) charity, and the operating company subsidiary, OpenAI Global, and emphasizes OpenAI’s non-profit nature. OpenAI Global is a capped for-profit subsidiary, and some of the Altman-board tension may have been over the non-profit versus profit dynamic. The board, though, justified Altman’s ouster by saying he hadn’t been candid with the board.

Airbnb’s Chesky and OpenAI’s Altman Are Close

Chesky said in May during that Skift interview that he is “very close” to Altman and “I talk to him every day.” The Airbnb CEO said Altman was one of his “first mentors” upon Chesky’s arrival in San Francisco in 2007. Altman was already at Y Combinator for a couple of years before Chesky and his co-founders applied to attend the startup accelerator in late 2008.

Chesky said he and Altman became even tighter — as did the Airbnb and OpenAI teams — after the launch of ChatGPT a year ago.

Airbnb Helped OpenAI With Plugins

“We actually helped them with their plugins,” Chesky said, referring to OpenAI’s plugins for the likes of Expedia, Kayak, GetYourGuide, Skyscanner and Omio. “When they built those plugins, we were originally the first partner. I even sent my engineering team to OpenAI to help them. But then I saw the integration. And I said, ‘You know what, Sam? We’re going to sit out the integration. Because we built the OpenAI plugin where you can search everything but it’s not the right interface.'”

Airbnb’s Chesky Has Been Posting His Altman and Brockman Support on X

Since Friday’s shot heard ’round Silicon Valley, Wall Street and the rest of the tech ecosystem, Chesky has been posting and re-posting his support for Altman, who’s perceived by many as among Silicon Valley’s leading luminaries, as well as for Brockman, and the OpenAI team on X.

“I’m proud of Sam and Greg,” Chesky posted Sunday. “Over the past 36 hours, they’ve faced tremendous pressure and responded with grace and love – always thinking about their team.”

On the day of the firing, Chesky posted: “Sam Altman and Greg Brockman have my full support. I’m saddened by what’s transpired. They, and the rest of the OpenAI team, deserve better.” Chesky said he’s spoken to the duo.

The Airbnb CEO re-posted with a heart emoji Altman’s tweet: “I love the openai team so much.”

Chesky re-posted venture capitalist Ron Conway’s November 18 post: “What happened at OpenAI today is a Board coup that we have not seen the likes of since 1985 when the then-Apple board pushed out Steve Jobs. It is shocking; it is irresponsible; and it does not do right by Sam & Greg or all the builders in OpenAI.”

The Airbnb CEO also re-posted Altman’s post on Saturday:

“i love you all. today was a weird experience in many ways. but one unexpected one is that it has been sorta like reading your own eulogy while you’re still alive. the outpouring of love is awesome. one takeaway: go tell your friends how great you think they are.”

Uncover the next wave of innovation in travel.
June 4 in New York City
See Who's Coming

Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch

Tags: airbnb, artificial intelligence, future of lodging, kayak, omio, online travel newsletter, OpenAi

Photo credit: Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky at Skift Global Forum in September 2022. Source: Skift Skift

Up Next

Loading next stories