OpenAI co-founder Sam Altman will return as CEO just days after he was fired by the board, the firm said.
The agreement “in principle” involves a new board being installed, the tech company added. It comes after Mr Altman was sacked on Friday triggering an open letter from staff who threatened to resign unless he was reinstated.
“I am looking forward to returning to OpenAI,” Mr Altman said in a post on social media.
Altman will return and be joined by a new initial board of former Twitter CEO Bret Taylor, ex-US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, and Quora co-founder Adam D’Angelo.
“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,” he said in a post on X early Wednesday morning.
Altman thanked Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella for helping to make the stunning reversal happen.
“When I decided to join [Microsoft] on Sunday evening, it was clear that was the best path for me and the team. With the new board and with Satya’s support, I’m looking forward to returning to openAI, and building on our strong partnership with [Microsoft].”
On Monday, hundreds of employees, including co-founder and board member Ilya Sutskever, signed a letter saying that, if the board didn’t resign and bring Altman back, the overwhelming majority would move to work with him at Microsoft.
In a statement of his own, Nardella credited the changes to the board in getting Altman back to OpenAI.
“We are encouraged by the changes to the OpenAI board,’ he wrote. ‘We believe this is a first essential step on a path to more stable, well-informed, and effective governance.”
“Sam, Greg, and I have talked and agreed they have a key role to play along with the OAI leadership team in ensuring OAI continues to thrive and build on its mission.”
“We look forward to building on our strong partnership and delivering the value of this next generation of AI to our customers and partners.”
OpenAI, which was reportedly in talks as recently as last month to sell employee shares to investors at an $86 billion valuation, emerged as the hottest startup on the planet this year after releasing its ChatGPT chatbot in late 2022. ChatGPT allows users to input simple text queries and retrieve smart and creative answers that can lead to more in-depth conversations.
Altman had been leading the company since 2019 and was serving as both the top executive of a high-flying company and the public face of artificial intelligence research and product development.
Unlike most Silicon Valley startups, OpenAI wasnt structured like a typical corporation with large chunks of equity controlled by the founders. Rather, it was part of a nonprofit that was started in 2015. The board oversees the nonprofit, which “acts as the overall governing body for all OpenAI activities,” according to Friday’s blog post.
Sutskever and Brockman were both part of OpenAI’s founding team. Original investors included Altman, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Tesla CEO Elon Musk who reportedly committed $1 billion to the project.
“Returning to OpenAI & getting back to coding tonight,” Brockman wrote in an early Wednesday X post.
Immediately after OpenAI’s board announced Altman’s firing, prominent Silicon Valley investors and founders loudly voiced their concerns and even compared the move to Apple’s decision 38 years ago to fire Steve Jobs. In 1997, Jobs would return and eventually lead Apple to create the iPhone and become the most valuable company in the U.S.
“What happened at OpenAI today is a Board coup that we have not seen the likes of since 1985 when the then-Apple board pushed out Steve Jobs,” longtime startup investor Ron Conway said in an X post. “It is shocking; it is irresponsible; and it does not do right by Sam & Greg or all the builders in OpenAI.”
Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt called Altman a “hero of mine,” who built a company that “changed our collective world forever.”
AirbnbCEO Brian Chesky described Altman as “one of the best founders of his generation.” And venture capitalist Vinod Khosla said he is a “once in a generation CEO.”
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