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OpenAI wants Tesla staff, so Musk is poaching them first

OpenAI wants Tesla staff, so Musk is poaching them first


Is Sam Altman’s OpenAI, the world leader in generative artificial intelligence, trying to poach staff away from Tesla’s Autopilot team? 

Elon Musk certainly wants people to think so. After news emerged on Wednesday that Tesla’s Ethan Knight became the carmaker’s fourth engineer to join to Musk’s latest startup, xAI, the centibillionaire claimed his employee was planning to defect to OpenAI anyway.

“It was either xAI or them,” wrote the man who lured his first AI director away from Altman in 2017, adding he was boosting their pay. “They have been aggressively recruiting Tesla engineers with massive compensation offers and have unfortunately been successful in a few cases.”

Musk, who co-founded OpenAI more than eight years ago, maintains an ongoing feud with Altman and is actively suing his former partner over an alleged breach of contract. OpenAI did not respond to a request by Fortune for comment.

Knight’s departure raises concerns. As growth at Tesla’s core car business has ground to a complete halt, investors have become more wary of Musk’s less traditional management methods, like moving staff between his businesses as he sees fit. 

Testimony in Musk’s pay package case recently revealed board members exercise little to no oversight and couldn’t give so much as a ballpark estimate of how many staff Musk reassigned from Tesla to help with his Twitter purchase. “Musk regularly uses Tesla resources to address project at other companies he own,” the court ruled, adding no one on the board challenged such decisions. 

Concerns Musk treats his companies like his own personal fiefdoms have only grown ever since he threatened the board he would develop AI technology outside of Tesla if they didn’t approve a compensation package granting him 25% control over the company.

In this context, the news of more Tesla engineers leaving for Musk’s xAI startup caused alarm among some of Tesla’s small shareholders. 

“Is there a precedent for the CEO of a public company poaching talent to go over to his private company? Is he acting in shareholders’ best interests?” one…

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