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Microsoft's Satya Nadella tried to hire Sam Altman. He got Mustafa Suleyman instead.

Geoff Weiss,Paul Squire   

Microsoft's Satya Nadella tried to hire Sam Altman. He got Mustafa Suleyman instead.
  • Microsoft has hired AI vet Mustafa Suleyman to lead a consumer AI team.
  • CEO Satya Nadella had previously offered a similar job to OpenAI's Sam Altman.

Microsoft is swinging for the fences.

The tech giant's CEO Satya Nadella has hired AI veteran and Google DeepMind founder Mustafa Suleyman to lead a new group at the company spearheading all its consumer AI initiatives, including its Copilot chatbot. It's all part of Microsoft's push to get ahead in the AI race with competitors — like Google.

Microsoft is also bringing over Suleyman's Inflection cofounder Karén Simonyan, plus some other members of the team.

But these high-profile hires aren't the first big names Nadella's tried to lure over to Microsoft to boost its AI aspirations. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman was briefly in line for a similar role after he was pushed out of OpenAI late last year.

While it's not clear whether Nadella's offer to bring Altman across to Microsoft during that turbulent weekend was opportunistic or long-planned, it points to Microsoft's willingness to hire a big name to push its AI ambitions forward — and, probably, that it's willing to pay up to hire top talent.

And with Suleyman's hire, Microsoft might have the best of both worlds.

Its ongoing relationship with OpenAI — including a $10 billion investment in January 2023 — gives it access to Altman's brains and AI brawn. Nadella now also has Suleyman, one of the field's most recognizable names, in his stable.

From Altman to Suleyman

After Altman's shocking ouster from OpenAI at the hands of its board in November, Nadella quickly snapped up Altman and OpenAI president Greg Brockman, plus other colleagues.

Altman was going to lead "a new advanced AI research team" at the software giant.

"We are going to build something new & it will be incredible," Brockman said in an X post at the time.

But both quickly ended up back at OpenAI — with a new board and with Nadella's support, Altman said.

Nadella said it didn't matter where Altman ultimately ended up working, given Microsoft's deep ties to OpenAI.

"Irrespective of where Sam is, he's working with Microsoft," Nadella told Bloomberg TV in November.

And that looks set to continue, with an OpenAI spokesperson telling Bloomberg:

"We congratulate Mustafa and Karén on their new roles and look forward to working with them."

And in-house at Microsoft, Suleyman will now serve as EVP and CEO of the new group, Microsoft AI, and Simonyan will report to him as chief scientist.

Suleyman, whose DeepMind was acquired by Google in 2014 for upwards of $500 million, will now be in charge of Copilot, Bing, Edge, and Microsoft's GenAI team.

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