June 20, 2024

Sam Altman, chief executive officer of OpenAI, speaks at the Microsoft Build event in Seattle, Washington, U.S.

Sam Altman, chief executive officer of OpenAI, speaks at the Microsoft Build event in Seattle, Washington, U.S.
Photo: Chona Kasinger/Bloomberg (Getty Images)

The head of the world’s most influential generative artificial intelligence company, Sam Altman, may make the same salary as the average American ($65,000), but his real moneymaker is his side hustle.

Altman is a personal investor in hundreds of startups — and the total value of his holdings is at least $2.8 billion, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal.

Altman was one of the first investors in Reddit and Airbnb, both of which have since gone public with massively successful stock market debuts. (Airbnb’s public launch, in fact, is widely noted as one of the most successful in IPOs in history.) He was also an early investor in the fintech company Stripe, which is now valued at $65 billion, making it one of the most valuable startups in the U.S. behind only SpaceX and Altman’s own OpenAI.

The Journal’s investigation raised questions about whether there are conflicts of interest between Altman’s personal investments and OpenAI’s deals, from which he stands to gain enormously. For example, Reddit recently inked a licensing deal with OpenAI. Though the value of the deal is still unknown, it was enough to send Reddit’s stock soaring 13%. OpenAI is also in talks with Helion, a nuclear energy startup in which Altman is also a major investor.

Bret Taylor, the chairman of OpenAI’s board, told The Journal that Altman has “consistently followed policies and been transparent about his investments.” Altman was briefly ousted from OpenAI at the end of 2023 for not being “consistently candid in his communications with the board.” His lack of transparency included not informing the board that he owned the OpenAI startup fund, “even though he constantly was claiming to be an independent board member with no financial interest in the company,” said former OpenAI board member Helen Toner while speaking in a recent podcast episode about the debacle.

But the board apparently now has faith in Altman, despite numerous potential conflicts of interest outlined by The Journal. “Sam is fully focused on his role as CEO. We carefully manage any potential conflicts and always put OpenAI and our mission first,” Taylor told the outlet. “Our fully independent audit committee reviews all potential conflicts involving directors and officers to ensure the best outcomes for OpenAI.”

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