Ethan Jong • Published May 7, 2024

Out of the Boardroom (Closet) – a series of blog posts dedicated to shining a spotlight on the brave, intelligent, and pioneering lives of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and their coming out stories.

Sam Altman - Openly Gay CEO

Out of the Boardroom (closet): Sam Altman Gay CEO OpenAI

Samuel Harris Altman is an American entrepreneur and openly gay CEO of one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing companies – OpenAI. OpenAI launched in 2015, and the company has already reached an annualized revenue of over $2 billion in 2024.

Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1985, Altman is one of the younger billionaires to roam the planet with a total net worth of $1 billion USD as of 2024. Much of his wealth is credited to smart investments in companies like Helion Energy and Nuclear Fusion which he initiated at a young age.

He is listed as one of the prominent figures of the AI boom that many are now considering to be the fourth revolution.

Early Entrepreneurial Endeavours

Sam Altman posing with his new business venture - Loopt. Image Source: The New York Times

Altman attended Stanford University where he ultimately dropped out after two years to go and pursue his entrepreneurial dreams. Soon after dropping out of college, Altman founded a social networking service named Loopt.

Loopt was able to raise $30 million in venture capital and ran for seven years before being acquired for $43.4 million in 2012. Right before Loopt’s acquisition, Altman joined a startup accelerator named Y Combinator. Here, he served as president for five years from 2014 to 2019.

In 2014, Y Combinator was estimated to have a total valuation of over $65 billion which Altman was responsible for overseeing as president. Some companies to work with Y Combinator were Airbnb, Dropbox, and Stripe. Today, these companies are now worth billions of dollars.

Sam Altman posing with Tools for Humanity co-founder Alex Blania.

After Altman’s stint with Y Combinator came to an end, he used his expertise to co-found Tools for Humanity in 2019. Tools for Humanity is a company that builds systems used to scan the eyes of people in order to provide security and authentication measures. As an incentive to having your eyes scanned, people were compensated with a cryptocurrency called Worldcoin.

The Beginnings of OpenAI

Sam Altman speaking at an OpenAI event.

In 2015, OpenAI was launched. Backed by prominent figures like Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Jessica Livingston, and of course, Sam Altman himself, OpenAI was able to raise $1 billion in funding from several investors and organizations.

According to their website, OpenAI’s mission is to “ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity.”

As Open AI developed over the years, Altman saw great potential in the firm. But much of his time was still spent with Y Combinator which created a conflict of priorities for Altman.

In 2019, Altman made the decision to leave Y Combinator in order to join OpenAI as the Chief Executive Officer while continuing to develop Tools for Humanity.

ChatGPT Marks the Start of the AI Boom

Sam Altman with ChatGPT. Photo Source: CCN.com

You’ve likely heard of ChatGPT by now, and if you haven’t, how is that rock you’re living under?

ChatGPT is an AI-driven chatbot that OpenAI announced in November of 2022. ChatGPT is free for everyone to use and has options to upgrade to more advanced versions in exchange for payment.

In January of 2023, just a few months after launching publicly, ChatGPT had gained a staggering 100 million users which made the company the fastest-growing consumer software application in history.

ChatGPT has had such an effect on the planet that many credit the release of ChatGPT as the inciting incident of the artificial intelligence boom. From helping you decide which recipe to make with the available ingredients in your fridge, to helping you code your first game, ChatGPT plays a versatile role in millions of lives.

Testifying Before the Senate

Sam Altman raising his right hand before the Senate. Photo Source: CNN

With the rapid growth of ChatGPT, many people became concerned about AI oversight. Fear that AI would become too powerful and would potentially be used in harmful and unethical ways, spread among the minds of millions.

In May of 2023, Altman was requested to testify before the United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law about AI oversight.

Sam Altman testifying before the Senate. Photo Source: ABC News.

During his testament, Altman proposed the creation of an American or a global agency that would oversee all AI systems. This proposed agency would have the power to license and delicense AI systems according to a set of rules and regulations that would ensure safety for all humans.

Altman’s testimony has set the ground stage for the discussion of AI and AI’s potentially adverse effects on the planet. More and more people are starting to pick up on the noise that AI is making and coming to realize that AI has both the extreme power to do good, as well as to do bad.

CEO Sam Altman Travels the World

French president Emmanuel Macron face to face with Sam Altman.

With the huge success of ChatGPT launching Altman into superstar status, Altman pursued a world tour to meet with several world leaders and diplomats. Seeing that his home country, the U.S., was concerned about AI regulations, he took to several other countries to begin his advocacy for AI.

Across 22 countries, Altman got the chance to speak with people of high power and influence about the success of OpenAI and the prospects of AI in the world.

Altman got to shake hands and chat with leaders such as French President Emmanual Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and even Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India prime minister Narendra Modi chatting with Sam Altman.

This period was a great showcasing on the world stage of the influence that Sam Altman, an openly Gay Chief Executive Officer, had made on the world with his innovative AI advancements.

Rishi Sunak (pictured right) engaged in a roundtable discussion with several CEOs, including Sam Altman (pictured centre). Source: BBC.

Having meeting after meeting with prime ministers, presidents, and other high-ranking diplomats, Altman’s world tour helped to normalize the idea that LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs do belong in the business world. That despite being an openly LGBTQ+ person in a world that at times may look down on you, you can indeed persevere and reach for the stars – just look at Sam Altman.

Coming Out of the Closet

Sam Altman pictured with his husband - Oliver Mulherin

Altman has had one remarkable journey so far in the entrepreneurial landscape. But before Altman was shaking hands with presidents and prime ministers, and joining the rank of billionaire status, Altman made a courageous choice in his early life. A choice that has now led him to be who he truly is.

School Drama

In a 2020 podcast episode with Mostly Human Media, Altman reveals the defining moment when he stood up to prejudice and came out to his entire school in an enthralling and invigorating speech.

At one of Altman’s upcoming school assemblies, a mother of a gay male was set to deliver a speech on National Coming Out Day. Some students had heard about the upcoming speech and immediately decided to boycott the assembly in offence of gay people.

At Altman’s school – John Burroughs School – all students had the opportunity to give a 5-minute speech on any matter at any one of the school’s assemblies.

The Decision to Stand Up to Injustice

Altman, 17 at the time, heard about the students who were protesting the assembly. He was absolutely upset about the fact that students were boycotting the assembly and decided that he needed to make matters right. That night, Altman wrote a speech that he would plan on delivering during his school’s assembly the following day.

The night before Altman’s stage debut, he hardly slept. Tossing and turning, he stressed about giving his speech to his entire school. A part of Altman did not want to give the speech, but he knew that some people needed to hear his speech. Some people needed to hear the justice that he would speak.

And on the basis of justice and courage, Altman decided to follow through with his speech.

Altman's Big Day - Coming Out to His Entire School

Sam Altman (pictured right) sitting down for a podcast conversation with high school students.

As the day of Altman’s speech arrived, Altman was in a frenzy of conflict. He wanted to use the speech as an opportunity to come out to his school and advocate for gay people, but at the same time, he was afraid of the criticisms he might receive for coming out as gay.

One can only imagine the kinds of thoughts that Altman was dealing with in those escalating moments:

Would my friends stop liking me? Would I be ostracized from lunch tables? Would teachers deliberately stop talking to me if I came out as gay?

Seconds ticked by, and Altman found himself standing in the hallway outside of the assembly with minutes to go before his big speech.

Maybe I should change the speech to not include myself. Maybe I should not come out to my school. Maybe… **** this, I can do this. People need to hear this.

Enter Stage Right - Sam Altman

A young Sam Altman

From what Altman could remember, he took the stage and gave one of the best speeches of his entire life. He recalls that public speaking was not his forte, but during that moment, Altman found himself enthralled in his passion for gay advocacy. After minutes of speaking went by, Altman suddenly found himself in front of a standing ovation. The crowd loved his speech!

The Aftermath - An Inspiration for All

For the rest of the day, Altman recalls that he was treated like a hero of sorts. Students would come up to him and tell Altman how meaningful his speech was to them. One student, who was suicidal due to the protest, claimed that Altman’s speech helped a great deal.

As a result of Altman’s heroic efforts to stand up to homophobia, more people started to come out. The air at his school became less thick with tension as more people learned to become welcoming to gay people.

Altman felt relieved that he gave his speech and is glad to have pursued the right course of action in the name of justice.

Altman’s coming out would prove to have prolonged effects on the LGBTQ+ community, especially within the entrepreneurial world.

Navigating the Entrepreneurial World as an LGBTQ+ CEO

Sam Altman being interviewed by Queerty

Altman has not spoken much about being Gay in the entrepreneurial world but has provided a glimpse into his thoughts on being Gay in the technology industry.

In an interview with Queerty, Altman was asked whether he believed there was a glass ceiling for Gay people in the technology industry. His response was as followed:

"I don't know whether or not there is a glass ceiling for gay people in this field, but I do know that I decided right when I started out, I was never going to spend time thinking about that. And I was going to make every career decision as if there weren't. That's a mindset that's hard to have every time you feel a setback, but easy to have when you sort of like step back and look at the - your career as a whole."

In other words, Altman’s approach to navigating the technology world has been to not care too much about imposed limitations on Gay entrepreneurs. That if there is indeed a glass ceiling for Gay people, he will just ignore that ceiling and push right through.

Sam Altman and Bill Gates engaged in discourse

Altman does not want to be constantly bogged down by the idea that Gay people are limited in what they can accomplish just because some other people think so. The more you give in to those nonsensical notions, the more power you give them – and doing so will only drag you down.

The Start of a New Life - Tying the Knot

Sam Altman getting married to his partner Oliver Mulherin

Not every story has a happy ending. And though I wish I could say that Altman has a happy ending to his story, I cannot, because his entrepreneurial and LGBTQ+ journey is just beginning.

In January of 2024, Sam Altman tied the knot with engineer Oliver Mulherin.

The two shared a fairytale wedding in Hawaii and now live happily together in San Francisco.

Altman and Mulherin breaking the glass - a Jewish wedding tradition

What we can all learn from Altman’s journey thus far is that bravery, innovation, and leadership can take you places you never would have imagined before.

Altman almost certainly never thought that he would one day be shaking hands with French President Emmanual Macron or that he would become a beacon of inspiration for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs to look up to.

But the reality is that he did become and accomplish all that, and he did so because he kept his head down and believed in himself.

In Altman’s case, he was just a teenage boy looking to make a difference in the world. From standing up to homophobia to testifying before the Senate to meeting with world leaders to marrying the love of his life, Altman has accomplished a great deal and should be proud of every single one of those feats.

What the future holds for Altman is uncertain, but what is certain, is that Altman is ready to conquer the world.

FAQs

Who are some other famous openly Gay CEOs within the entrepreneurial realm?

Some other notable openly Gay CEOs within the entrepreneurial realm include Tim Cook of Apple Inc., Jim Fitterling of Dow Chemical, and Beth Ford of Land O’Lakes, Inc. who is the first openly Gay CEO to be female and part of a Fortune 500 company.

Who sits on OpenAI's board of directors?

The new board of directors for OpenAI as of this writing consists of:

  • Microsoft (observer)
  • Bret Taylor (chairman)
  • Sam Altman
  • Larry Summers
  • Adam D’Angelo
  • Sue Desmond-Hellmann
  • Nicole Seligman
  • Fidji Simo

Are Jack Altman and Sam Altman related?

Jack Altman and Sam Altman are indeed related. The brothers worked together to co-found Hydrazine Capital – a venture capital firm based in San Francisco.

Out of the Boardroom (Closet) Series

Calan Breckon

Calan Breckon

Calan Breckon is an SEO Specialist and Organic Content Marketer who uses search engine optimization tactics to generate more website traffic and leads for his clients. Calan has worked with companies such as Cohere and Canada Life and has been a guest on the "Online Marketing Made Easy" podcast with Amy Porterfield as well as featured in publications like Authority Magazine and CourseMethod.

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