OpenAI board attempts to hit “Ctrl-Z” in talks with Altman to return as CEO

Enlarge / OpenAI CEO Sam Altman speaks during the OpenAI DevDay event on November 06, 2023 in San Francisco. (credit: Getty Images | Ars Technica)

Just over a day since his surprise firing that sent shock waves through the tech industry, the OpenAI board is reportedly engaging in discussions with Sam Altman to potentially return as CEO of the company, according to The Verge, citing people familiar with the matter. The outlet says that Altman is “ambivalent” about returning and would want significant changes to how the company is run.

The move would be a dramatic about-face for the board, which has faced intense scrutiny from all corners of the tech world for abruptly and surprisingly firing one of the tech industry’s most high-profile CEOs. Altman was popular with both Microsoft leadership and OpenAI staff, and his firing came as a shock to employees, who reportedly pushed back against OpenAI Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever’s handling of the move during an all-hands meeting on Friday. The overtures toward Altman suggest that the board may have been surprised by the sizable reaction from the world at large.

In an internal memo obtained by Axios on Saturday, OpenAI COO Brad Lightcap hinted at criticism of how the firing was handled and confirmed that Altman was not fired in response to “malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices.” With no apparent legal wrongdoing at play, and with broad support within the company (present board of directors excluded), the path could clear for Altman’s return, should he choose to accept it.

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