A contentious back-and-forth over the span of five days ended with Altman’s retaking the CEO seat, and the formation of a new board.
Well, that was fast. When OpenAI fired co-founder Sam Altman as CEO, the artificial intelligence (AI) startup dealt with five days’ worth of scrutiny from across the business world—namely its majority shareholder Microsoft Corp.
Observers likened the situation to when Apple fired Steve Jobs in 1985 after the Macintosh and future iPhone innovator had it out with the board of directors.
When OpenAI and Altman seemed unable to work out an agreement over the weekend, Microsoft announced that it would hire Altman for their own internal AI team.
But between Friday, Nov. 17 and Wednesday, Nov. 22, OpenAI brass seemingly lamented the decision.
“We have reached an agreement in principle for Sam Altman to return to OpenAI as CEO with a new initial board,” OpenAI stated on social media early Wednesday morning.
The new board will include Bret Taylor, the former CEO of Salesforce.com, as chair; former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers; and former Facebook exec Adam D’Angelo, who was previously on the board.
Additional members will be added to replace chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology’s Helen Toner—the directors responsible for ousting Altman in the first place.
D’Angelo is also believed to have voted Altman out. No less than 24 hours afterward, hundreds of OpenAI employees pushed for Altman’s reinstatement, with many threatening to quit otherwise.
The mutiny worked. Altman returned, alongside fellow co-founder Greg Brockman (who quit in protest on Friday), but is no longer on the OpenAI board.
“And now, we all get some sleep,” Toner posted on Twitter.
Mira Murati and Emmett Shear—both named OpenAI interim CEOs in the past few days—appeared to be optimistic when OpenAI reneged and welcomed Altman back.
Shear stated on X that he was “deeply pleased by this result,” while Murati seemingly endorsed OpenAI’s statement with a blue heart emoji.
While Altman’s comeback quells employee discontent, it remains to be seen how solid c-suite morale will be going forward. It’s also not clear what Altman did to draw the ire of four board members.
According to the Wall Street Journal, an independent investigation into his conduct will take place.
Analysts noted that Microsoft will likely wield more control at OpenAI after this past week’s drama. The Redmond, Washington-based tech giant owns a 49% stake.
OpenAI, which is governed as a nonprofit organization, claims that its mission is to wield AI responsibly.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella displayed a sign of support via social media toward Altman and the new board: “We believe this is a first essential step on a path to more stable, well-informed, and effective governance.”
Altman also took to social media once the impasse ended: “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.”