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In dramatic reversal, OpenAI rehires Sam Altman as CEO

The company’s founder had been fired by the board of directors five days ago due to loss of trust, but now it is the board that is undergoing a restructuring

Luis Pablo Beauregard
Sam Altman OpenAI
Sam Altman at the APEC summit in San Francisco, California on November 16, 2023.CARLOS BARRIA (REUTERS)

It looks like a chapter in one of the most dramatic Silicon Valley soap operas of 2023 is ending, at least for now. OpenAI confirmed on Tuesday night that Sam Altman, one of its founders, is returning as CEO. The announcement comes just five days after the executive, one of the most significant players in the artificial intelligence boom in the United States, was fired by its board of directors and then signed on by Microsoft, one of the company’s shareholders.

The return of the entrepreneur has led to a restructuring of the company’s board of directors. Through a message on X (formerly Twitter), it was announced that the new board will be made up of some of the most important figures in Silicon Valley. Among them is Bret Taylor, one of the CEOs of Salesforce, with experience in Twitter before the arrival of Elon Musk; the economist Larry Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton Administration, and Adam D’Angelo, CEO of Quora and the only director to remain in the position after days of tension following the initial departure of Altman.

The company has admitted on social media that there is an agreement, but all is not yet said and done. “We are collaborating to figure out the details,” OpenAI wrote in its message, published around 10 p.m. U.S. West Coast time. The company had faced a lot of pressure from its investors, mainly Microsoft, which has a $13 billion stake in OpenAI, to bring Altman back. The pressure didn’t just come from the world of finance. OpenAI employees and engineers signed a letter supporting the CEO after his surprise dismissal on Friday afternoon. The document, signed by 770 workers, demanded Altman’s return to the company’s board.

The message by OpenAI has been viewed as a white flag after days of conflict in Silicon Valley. Many of those affected, including Greg Brockman, the company’s former president, and its chief technology officer Mira Murati, have congratulated the company for backtracking on the decision made last week. Brockman tendered his resignation on Friday after the board demoted him to a non-executive position, and the news rocked Silicon Valley. On Tuesday he also announced his return to the San Francisco-based company.

Altman also made statements on social media. “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,” he tweeted. He was alluding to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who wrote his own message of encouragement following news of Altman’s reinstatement.

The company had appointed Emmett Shear as CEO on Monday to replace Altman. The new executive’s profile was very different from that of OpenAI’s founder, as he was a member of the camp of experts who believe that the unmonitored development of artificial intelligence could even lead to the end of humanity. Shear, 40, had made his career mainly on Twitch, the social video network. However, he says Altman’s return to the company he founded was not bad news for him. “I am deeply pleased with this outcome after 72 intense hours of work,” Shear, who has considered himself part of the solution, said on social media.

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