Sam Altman is returning to OpenAI as its chief executive, the high-profile AI startup said Wednesday, a dramatic reversal that caps an intense five days of discussions, debates and convincing following the sudden dismissal of Altman last week from the startup he co-founded.
OpenAI, which is the most valuable U.S. startup, said it has reached an “agreement in principle” for Altman’s return. The startup is also reforming its board, eliminating several members who faced intense scrutiny for their decision last week.
Former Salesforce co-chief executive Bret Taylor, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers, and Quora founder Adam D’Angelo will be part of the new board at the AI startup. Taylor will serve as the chair of the board, the startup said.
Microsoft, which has invested over $11 billion in OpenAI and owns about 49% of the startup, was taken aback by OpenAI’s decision last week and rushed to hire Altman to lead a new AI group at the software conglomerate. Greg Brockman, former President of OpenAI, and countless other members of the startup resigned in protest of the earlier OpenAI board’s decision. Brockman, who had also joined Microsoft, said he was also returning to the startup.
In response to OpenAI’s move Wednesday, Altman said: “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. 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.”
Microsoft chief Satya Nadella, who also expressed disappointment in OpenAI board’s decision last week and pledged to ensure that Microsoft would never be “surprised” again, said Wednesday that he was encouraged by today’s changes to the OpenAI board.
“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.”
Nadella said in television interviews earlier this week that he had earlier relayed to the OpenAI board of directors that Microsoft will be working with Altman and Brockman “either way.” He also didn’t rule out the possibility of Altman and Brockman returning to OpenAI and said Microsoft will remain committed to the startup, which through its ChatGPT platform has captured the attention of the world in a way very few technologies have in the past.
OpenAI isn’t only widely estimated to be leading the current AI race but also has in less than a year assumed the position of kingmaker for thousands of other startups that are building atop its software offerings. Investment in OpenAI has also supercharged Microsoft’s AI efforts, helping it court many businesses and bolstering Wall Street’s positive outlook on Microsoft’s future.
OpenAI’s earlier board — which included its chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, independent directors D’Angelo, technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology’s Helen Toner — faced intense public scrutiny for their abrupt decision, for which they never offered a comprehensive explanation. Growing frustrated with the earlier OpenAI board, several OpenAI investors began exploring options to sue the board members, Reuters reported Tuesday.
Joshua Kushner, founder of Thrive Capital, a backer of OpenAI, who had pushed for Altman’s return, said Wednesday that the startup has the “potential to be one of the most consequential companies in the history of computing.” Altman and Brockman “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.”
“The resilience and strength we have seen from the entire OpenAI team in the past few days has been extraordinary, and we consider it a true honor to be their partners now and in the future. We believe this is the best outcome for the company, its employees, those who build on their technologies, and the world at large.”
Emmett Shear, the former Twitch chief executive who was appointed as interim leader of OpenAI on Sunday, said he was pleased with OpenAI’s new decision. “Coming into OpenAI, I wasn’t sure what the right path would be. This was the pathway that maximized safety alongside doing right by all stakeholders involved. I’m glad to have been a part of the solution,” he posted on X.