Days after he was fired as CEO by OpenAI’s board, Sam Altman is set to return to the company.
OpenAI released a statement late Tuesday saying it had “reached an agreement in principle for Sam Altman to return to OpenAI as CEO.” The proposed agreement includes replacing all the directors that fired Altman bar one, Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo. He would be joined on the new board by Bret Taylor, formerly CEO of Salesforce and Larry Summers, formerly US Secretary of the Treasury.
OpenAI was in “intense” negotiations earlier on Tuesday with Altman and the board of directors that ousted him last Friday, in an effort to rescue the embattled company. The talks were acknowledged in a memo sent to staff Monday by OpenAI’s vice president of global affairs, Anna Makanju, saying that the talks included Altman, the board, and the new interim CEO, Emmett Shear.
Shear posted on X after OpenAI’s announcement of the agreement for Altman to return that he was “deeply pleased by this result, after ~72 very intense hours of work.” It was unclear whether he would be staying at the company.
Altman’s firing triggered an extraordinary few days in which he discussed returning to the company before agreeing to join Microsoft instead. On Monday morning, hundreds of staff signed a letter threatening to quit the company in protest over the board’s handling of Altman’s removal. By afternoon, more than 95 percent of the company had added their name to the letter.
Some members of the board are again talking to Altman about his possible return, perhaps as a director on a transitional board, Bloomberg reported, citing unnamed sources. The talks are said to include OpenAI investors who are keen to see Altman reinstalled as CEO.
After removing Altman last Friday, the board originally appointed CTO Mira Murati as interim CEO. It also removed Altman’s cofounder and the company’s president, Greg Brockman, from his position as chairman. Brockman quit several hours later.
After discussions about a possible return broke down at the weekend, Altman agreed to join Microsoft, his former employees threatened to quit en masse and follow him in an open letter, and the board installed a new interim CEO, Emmett Shear.
Even ChatGPT might have struggled to dream up such a convoluted story of corporate intrigue. Questions continue to swirl around what had prompted his dismissal in the first place.