Home AI Everything Open AI Executive Hires Highlight Its Push for Profit

Open AI Executive Hires Highlight Its Push for Profit

BY KIT EATON @KITEATONOpenAI was born with an unusual structure that promoted tech advancements and safety over revenue, but now the picture may be clearer: It wants cold hard cash.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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Monday was a big day for OpenAI, the brand at the pointy forefront of the AI tech revolution. It announced a partnership with Apple that will put its chatbot technology into new iPhones, iPads and Macs, and also revealed it had hired a new CFO and chief product officer. Both hires were from outside the company, and both were from well outside the realms of computer science. It looks like after last year's C-suite debacle that saw its CEO ousted, OpenAI is tightening up and focusing on what it really wants--monetizing its products.

In a blog post, OpenAI said its new CFO was Sarah Friar, and its new chief product officer was Kevin Weil.

Friar was previously CEO at Nextdoor--a social network of local nodes that describes itself as an "app for neighborhoods where you can get local tips, buy and sell items, and more." Friar helped take the company public in 2021, and its stock surged some 30 percent immediately, though it now trades at around a quarter of its debut price. Before that, Friar was chief financial officer at Square, a financial services platform that began life as a startup cofounded by Twitter founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey. Friar's own LinkedIn page explains that at Square, she oversaw the company as it "launched its initial public offering in 2015 and added $30 billion in market capitalization." Friar is an Oxford University-educated engineer who holds an MBA from Stanford.

Weil was previously president of product and business at Planet Labs, a California-based remote sensing company whose website says it has a goal of monitoring the world by satellite to spot "unfolding events, assess situations & make informed decisions with minimal delay." Weil is a Harvard- and Stanford-educated scientist. CNBC also notes that Weil was a senior vice president at Twitter and a vice president at Facebook and Instagram.

At OpenAI, Weil's remit will include applying research to "products and services that benefit consumers, developers, and businesses," the company's blog post explained. This seems like a pretty straightforward talent hire, bringing Weil's tech and management expertise to OpenAI's C-suite, although it's interesting to note that Weil also, according to OpenAI's own words, was "co-founder of the Libra cryptocurrency."

Meanwhile, Friar will "lead a finance team that supports our mission by providing continued investment in our core research capabilities." Unlike Weil's job description, Friar's has more than a hint of corporate jargon. But from the part where it says her job is also about "ensuring that we can scale to meet the needs of our growing customer base and the complex and global environment in which we are operating," we can work out exactly what's going on here.

The key word is "scale." OpenAI is telegraphing its plans for rapid growth, and since the word is associated with Friar's CFO post, we can equate the stated ambition of growth directly with the goal of generating revenue. OpenAI's partnership with Apple, which involves a still undisclosed--but likely substantial--sum, will play a big part in this plan.

During the leadership turmoil that consumed the company in late 2023, OpenAI's complicated origin as a nonprofit played a significant role in the jockeying for executive control. Tensions between OpenAI's governing board and CEO Sam Altman, who was originally hired to run a for-profit division of the company, and was perceived as being too profit-driven and allegedly secretive, rose to a point where Altman was fired. After some high-level drama involving Microsoft, a significant investor in OpenAI's tech, Altman returned to the role days later and gutted the board that had fired him. 

Exactly the same tensions between profit and openness prompted early OpenAI funder Elon Musk to launch a lawsuit alleging the firm, and Altman, had strayed far from its open origins aimed at the public good.

Now, under Altman's apparently firmer control, with a new CFO and a tech-savvy chief -product officer, OpenAI can make good on its plans for building ever-smarter AI tech as it grows into a rapidly-expanding marketplace it has effectively helped to define--and to try to keep ahead of its rivals, like Google, which are investing billions of dollars to advance cutting-edge AI technology. Weil is quoted in the company's blog post: He's "thrilled," he says to help the company's next phase of growth, which includes "safely and responsibly" building "towards AGI"--that's "artificial general intelligence," the next phase of AI which may, some former employees worry, be able to surpass human intelligence.

Sounds like an innovation that could make someone a lot of money.

Photo Credit: Getty Images.

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