The company will have an initial board consisting of Bret Taylor, the former chair of Twitter’s board before its takeover by Elon Musk, Larry Summers, the former U.S. treasury secretary, and Adam D’Angelo, the chief executive of Quora and one of the board members who voted to oust Altman, OpenAI said in a post on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
“We have reached an agreement in principle for Sam to return to OpenAI as CEO,” the statement said. “We are collaborating to figure out the details. Thank you so much for your patience through this.”
Altman’s return puts a cap on nearly a week of chaos at the AI company. His firing last Friday shocked much of the tech industry, including OpenAI’s own investors and employees, who mounted a campaign to get him back. On Sunday night, Altman agreed to join Microsoft instead, but the next day, both he and Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella signaled that they would still be open to him going back to OpenAI. On Monday, nearly all of the company’s roughly 770 employees signed a letter saying they would quit if he was not reinstated.
Under the latest agreement, Altman will not have a seat on the new board, and the board agreed to an independent investigation that will examine all aspects of recent events, including Altman’s role, according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
Altman was fired with the board saying only that he had not been candid in his discussions with board members.
The initial board of three will vet and appoint a formal board of up to nine members, another person familiar with the matter said. Ilya Sutskever, Helen Toner and Tasha McCauley, the three other board members who moved to oust Altman along with D’Angelo, will leave the board, the person said. Emmett Shear, who was named interim CEO to replace Altman initially, will also leave the company, this person said.
Greg Brockman, who quit in solidarity with Altman on Friday, said on X he is returning to the company.
A spokesperson for OpenAI declined to comment further.
“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,” Altman said on X. “When I decided to join [Microsoft] on sun 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],” Altman said on X.
The drama around Altman’s sudden ouster at OpenAI has exposed the deep rift inside the company over who should control its future. OpenAI started in 2015 as a nonprofit research lab, but in recent years under Altman’s leadership, it took on billions of dollars in investment from the likes of tech giant Microsoft and venture capitalists, and began developing consumer products. Outside critics and some employees worried the company had abandoned its mission and was behaving more like a Big Tech company. It was originally meant to provide a more transparent, democratic alternative to Big Tech.
Altman’s return will be greeted with relief by investors, customers and employees who feared the boardroom drama could lead to the company’s implosion. If that had happened, it would have left a vacuum at the center of the AI industry, opening the window for competitors like Google and AI start-up Anthropic to gain momentum.
Microsoft, which is OpenAI’s biggest investor and uses its technology in its own AI products, also stands to benefit from a stabilized OpenAI and the return of Altman.
“We are encouraged by the changes to the OpenAI board. We believe this is a first essential step on a path to more stable, well-informed, and effective governance,” Nadella said in a statement on X. “We look forward to building on our strong partnership and delivering the value of this next generation of AI to our customers and partners.”
At San Francisco’s Mission District, employees were celebrating the return of Altman, said a person familiar with the matter.