4 days from fired to re-hired: A timeline of Sam Altman's ouster from OpenAI

Altman returned as CEO of the company just days after his sudden exit.

November 22, 2023, 9:51 AM

Sam Altman has reached an agreement in principle to return as CEO of OpenAI, the company announced late Tuesday night in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The announcement comes just four days after Altman's unexplained exit thrust the company into disarray, sparked an employee revolt, and elicited a public apology from one of the board members who ousted him.

Below is a timeline of Altman's ouster, the ensuing corporate chaos, and the deal that brought him back to the company.

Friday, November 17 – Altman stepped down from his role as CEO of OpenAI, the company announced, following a review undertaken by the company's board of directors.

"Mr. Altman's departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities," OpenAI said in a statement. "The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI."

The company appointed chief technology officer Mira Murati as interim CEO.

"i loved my time at openai. it was transformative for me personally, and hopefully the world a little bit," Altman said on X following the announcement, adding that he "will have more to say about what's next later."

Following Altman's departure, OpenAI president and co-founder Greg Brockman announced that he quit "based on today's news."

"Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today," Brockman said on X.

Sunday, November 19 – OpenAI hired former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear as its interim CEO, replacing Murati just two days after appointing her to the role. Shear confirmed the move in a post on X early the following morning.

"It's clear that the process and communications around Sam's removal has been handled very badly, which has seriously damaged our trust," said Shear.

"I took this job because I believe that OpenAI is one of the most important companies currently in existence," he went on. "When the board shared the situation and asked me to take the role, I did not make the decision lightly. Ultimately I felt that I had a duty to help if I could."

Meanwhile, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced they'd hired Altman to lead a new artificial intelligence department, alongside Brockman and several other recently departed OpenAI employees.

"We look forward to getting to know Emmett Shear and OAI's new leadership team and working with them," Nadella posted on X. "And we're extremely excited to share the news that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team."

In a repost of the announcement, Altman commented: "The mission continues."

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks, Nov. 15, 2023, in San Francisco.
Eric Risberg/AP

Monday, November 20 – Nearly all 800 employees at OpenAI signed a letter calling for the resignation of the company's board and the return of Altman as CEO.

The employees threatened to quit and join the newly announced AI department at Microsoft if their demands were not met, according to a copy of the letter obtained by ABC News. Included among the signees were OpenAI board member Ilya Sutskever, as well as Murati.

The letter, addressed to OpenAI board members, read in part: "Your conduct has made it clear you did not have the competence to oversee OpenAI."

In a separate post, Sutskever expressed personal remorse for his role in Altman's ouster.

"I deeply regret my participation in the board's actions," Sutskever, a longtime AI researcher and co-founder of OpenAI, posted on X. "I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we've built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company."

Tuesday, November 21 – Altman reached an agreement in principle to return as CEO of OpenAI, the company announced in a post on X.

The announcement includes a condition for OpenAI to reconfigure its board of directors. The new board will include former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, and Quora CEO Adam D'Angelo, the lone holdover from the previous board, OpenAI said.

Altman's return appeared to involve input from Nadella, whose company made a $10 billion investment in OpenAI earlier this year.

"With the new board and w satya's support, i'm looking forward to returning to openai, and building on our strong partnership with msft," Altman posted on X. "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," he added.

OpenAI and Altman are continuing to determine the exact terms of his reinstatement, the company said in their post on X: "We are collaborating to figure out the details."

Microsoft's Nadella applauded the agreement, posting: "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."