Sam Altman to Return as CEO of OpenAI

After days of chaos at ChatGPT creator OpenAI, the company says it has “in principle” reached an agreement for ousted CEO Sam Altman to return to his post.
Sam Altman
Sam AltmanPhotograph: JOEL SAGET/Getty Images

After days of corporate chaos that has captivated the tech industry, OpenAI cofounder and recently fired CEO Sam Altman is set to return to his position.

In a statement posted to X late Tuesday, OpenAI said it had reached an agreement “in principle” for Altman to return to OpenAI as CEO. The statement said a new “initial” board of directors would be appointed, including former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor as chair, former US Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers, and Adam D’Angelo, who would be the only existing director to remain on the board.

Altman posted on X, in his characteristic lower-case style, “i love openai, and everything i’ve done over the past few days has been in service of keeping this team and its mission together.”

Greg Brockman, an OpenAI cofounder who was removed from his role as chair of the board when Altman was fired and later quit in protest, is also set to regain his position. “Returning to OpenAI & getting back to coding tonight,” he posted on X.

OpenAI's proposed all-male board would appear to remove three directors who voted to eject Altman: OpenAI cofounder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, Helen Toner of Georgetown's Center for Security and Emerging Technology, and entrepreneur Tasha McCauley. Toner posted on X, “And now, we all get some sleep 😴.” McCauley and Sutskever didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Verge reported that under the proposed agreement the initial board will appoint a new board of up to nine people to reshape the corporate governance of OpenAI. Altman's ejection was made possible by an unusual structure that puts the company under the control of a board whose primary legal duty is to the project's original mission to make sure powerful AI is beneficial to humanity.

Kelly Sims, a partner at Thrive Capital, a major OpenAI investor that supported Altman’s negotiations with the company’s board in recent days, issued a statement welcoming his return. “Sam and Greg possess a profound commitment to the company’s integrity, and an unmatched ability to inspire and lead," the statement said. “We believe this is the best outcome for the company, its employees, those who build on their technologies, and the world at large,” Sims said.

Long Road Back

The negotiations over Altman's return were acknowledged in a memo sent to staff on Monday by OpenAI’s vice president of global affairs, Anna Makanju, which said the discussions 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. He changed his profile on X to list himself as “interim ex-CEO of OpenAI.”

After removing Altman last Friday, the board originally appointed CTO Mira Murati as interim CEO.

Altman’s firing triggered an extraordinary few days in which he discussed returning to the company before agreeing to join Microsoft instead, and then reopening negotiations with OpenAI.

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.

Even ChatGPT might have struggled to dream up such a convoluted story of corporate intrigue. Questions continue to swirl around what had prompted Altman's dismissal in the first place.

The board said on Friday that the CEO's firing “follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board,” sparking wild speculation about the possible reasons. The board has not yet offered evidence, either publicly or to OpenAI staff, to back up the claim. The company’s chief operating officer, Brad Lightcap, told employees that there had been no malfeasance.

Although Sutskever was involved in the decision to oust Altman, and even delivered the news to him on Friday, he has since recanted, posting on X on Monday, “I deeply regret my participation in the board’s actions. I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we’ve built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company." Late Tuesday on X, he shared the posts from OpenAI and Altman announcing that reunion indeed came to pass.

Additional reporting by Paresh Dave.