Sam Altman will return as CEO of OpenAI, overcoming an attempted boardroom coup that sent the company into chaos over the past several days. Former president Greg Brockman, who quit in protest of Altman’s firing, will return as well.
The company said in a statement late Tuesday that it has an “agreement in principle” for Altman to return alongside a new board composed of Bret Taylor, Larry Summers, and Adam D’Angelo. D’Angelo is a holdover from the previous board that initially fired Altman on Friday. He remains on this new board to give the previous board some representation, we’re told.
People familiar with the negotiations say that the main job of this small initial board is to vet and appoint an expanded board of up to nine people that will reset the governance of OpenAI. Microsoft, which has committed to investing billions in the company, wants to have a seat on that expanded board, as does Altman himself. During a press tour this week, CEO Satya Nadella said the company didn’t want any more “surprises.”
The very human power struggle at the center of all this seems not yet completely over
We’re told that both sides have agreed to an investigation into this whole saga. That investigation will presumably be done by an outside, independent law firm. Based on our conversations with people involved, the very human power struggle at the center of all this seems not yet completely over.
All key parties have posted about the deal for Altman to return, which we’re told is a done deal minus some last-minute paperwork. On X (formerly Twitter), Altman said that “everything I’ve done over the past few days has been in service of keeping this team and its mission together.”
One of OpenAI’s other big investors, Thrive Capital, called the return of Altman “the best outcome for the company, its employees, those who build on their technologies, and the world at large.”
“OpenAI has the potential to be one of the most consequential companies in the history of computing,” Thrive partner Kelly Sims said in a statement shared with The Verge. “Sam and Greg possess a profound commitment to the company’s integrity, and an unmatched ability to inspire and lead. We couldn’t be more excited for them to come back to the company they founded and helped build into what it is today.”
Helen Toner, who was a key board member in the initial move to oust Altman, simply said, “And now, we all get some sleep.”
Altman’s return is even more shocking than his sudden exit on Friday. OpenAI’s nonprofit board seemed resolute in its initial decision to remove Altman, shuffling through two CEOs in three days to avoid reinstating him. Meanwhile, the employees of OpenAI revolted, threatening to defect to Microsoft with Altman and co-founder Brockman if the board didn’t resign.
Since Altman was fired on Friday, the board members who opposed him have withheld the detailed reasoning for why they fired him, even under the threat of lawsuits from investors and employee walkouts. On Sunday, a key member of the board, Ilya Sutskever, flipped back to Altman’s camp after being pleaded with by Brockman’s wife. (Sutskever officiated their wedding at OpenAI headquarters — that’s how deep this all goes.) The flipping of Sutskever, who is also OpenAI’s chief scientist, left the remaining three board members more vulnerable.
We are told that interim CEO Emmett Shear, who was appointed on Sunday by the board to replace the previous interim CEO, Mira Murati, at one point threatened to resign unless the board could provide documentation or evidence of wrongdoing to support Altman’s firing. After the news of his return was announced Tuesday night, Shear called it “the pathway that maximized safety alongside doing right by all stakeholders involved. I’m glad to have been a part of the solution.”