LONDON – The truth of why DeepMind’s Mustafa Suleyman left the company he started with childhood friend Demis Hassabis and New Zealander Shane Legg may finally come out.
Suleyman’s departure from Google’s own London-based AI laboratory was announced out of the blue in August 2019 with little explanation. “Mustafa is taking a break after 10 hectic years,” said a DeepMind spokesman at the time.
Many assumed that the entrepreneur, an Oxford University dropout in his 30s, would one day return to DeepMind, but that never happened. Instead, he took on an AI policy role at Google in December 2019, leaving DeepMind watchers confused about what caused the switch.
A Wall Street Journal report on Tuesday, quoting people familiar with the matter, alleged that Suleyman had been stripped of most of his management duties over complaints that he had bullied employees.
Google and DeepMind confirmed to CNBC on Wednesday that DeepMind employees had raised concerns about Suleyman and that a law firm had been called in to investigate.
“With the help of an outside attorney, we investigated concerns about Mustafa’s leadership style,” said Google and DeepMind in a joint statement.
“As a result, he did some professional development to address problem areas that persist and don’t lead large teams.”
The companies declined to say what the undisclosed law firm concluded from their investigation, and a DeepMind spokesman said it was inappropriate for the company to comment on confidential employee processes.
They added that Suleyman now “plays a role as an individual at Google, where he makes valuable contributions to AI policy and regulation”.
Suleyman did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment, but did respond to questions from the Wall Street Journal that he “accepted the feedback that as a co-founder of DeepMind I drove people too hard and at times my leadership style was not constructive.”
He added: “I clearly apologize to those concerned.”
According to a CNBC source familiar with the matter, who chose to remain anonymous due to the private nature of the discussions, a number of complaints have been filed with a member of the DeepMind Audit Committee set up to oversee DeepMind’s health work.
In a brief message in September, Suleyman told CNBC that he was “back on Twitter” and dividing his time between London and California. He also said he was enjoying “life”.
Just four years after the startup was founded, Google acquired DeepMind for $ 600 million in 2014.
Following the acquisition, Suleyman was hired to lead DeepMind’s applied AI department, which aimed to find commercial applications for DeepMind’s software in the real world and for all Google products (search, Android, YouTube, etc.) . He also directed the company’s ethics work.
He successfully led a project that allowed Google to reduce the amount of energy used by the cooling units in the huge data centers, but his talks with UK utility National Grid failed.
Unlike Google’s bosses, Suleyman has no technical background. He studied philosophy and theology at Oxford University before setting up a counseling service for young Muslims. From there he worked for former London Mayor Ken Livingstone before setting up a consulting practice called Reos Partners, whose clients included the United Nations, the US government, the Dutch government, WWF and Shell.
Some tech-savvy Googlers see Suleyman as a scam and not very “Googley,” a source with links to DeepMind who wanted to remain anonymous because of the nature of the discussion, CNBC told CNBC.
However, many outsiders consider him a passionate and thoughtful leader, and he became known as a liberal activist after speaking publicly about how DeepMinds AI is supposed to address the world’s biggest problems like climate change and health care.
“Obviously, allegations of employee bullying must always be taken seriously, and I’m glad DeepMind, Google, and Mustafa did and he apologized. I’ve always been a huge fan because of my own interactions and deals,” the said Venture Capitalist Eileen Burbidge, who was also on DeepMind’s independent audit committee. “Still.”