Following a tumultuous period, Sam Altman has formally returned as CEO of OpenAI. The announcement, made via a company memo, also outlined changes to the board, including the addition of a new nonvoting seat for the startup’s primary investor, Microsoft.
The memo, which was sent to staff and posted on OpenAI’s blog, detailed the recent upheaval at the company, attributed to a loss of trust in the CEO by the board. This led to nearly the entire staff threatening to quit, a situation that CEO Altman characterized as a test of the startup’s resilience rather than a display of instability.
Altman had been removed from his position on November 17, with the nonprofit board of directors citing a lack of consistent honesty in his communications as the reason for their decision. Notably, the board’s responsibility was to the project’s original nonprofit mission of developing AI for the benefit of humanity, not the company’s business.
The board’s decision to remove Altman involved the company’s chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who ultimately reversed his stance and aligned with the staff in threatening to quit unless Altman was reinstated.
In his memo, Altman expressed no animosity towards Sutskever and indicated a desire to maintain their working relationship, though his future involvement with the board remained unclear.
Altman’s message to the staff also confirmed the composition of OpenAI’s new all-male board, comprising individuals such as former Treasury secretary Larry Summers, Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, and former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor, who will serve as the board’s chair. Notably, D’Angelo is the lone remaining member from the previous board.
Former board members Helen Toner, a director at CSET, a think tank, and Tasha McCauley, an entrepreneur, both tendered their resignations.
Speaking at the New York Times DealBook summit prior to the announcement, OpenAI cofounder Elon Musk voiced reservations about Altman and questioned Sutskever’s decision to support Altman’s dismissal.