Sam Altman, OpenAI board open talks to negotiate his possible return


By Ashlee Vance, Ed Ludlow and Emily Chang

Sam Altman and members of the OpenAI board have opened negotiations aimed at a possible return of the ousted co-founder and chief executive officer to the artificial intelligence company, according to people with knowledge of the matter.


Discussions are happening between Altman and at least one board member, Adam D’Angelo, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private and they may not come to fruition. The talks also involve some of OpenAI’s investors, who are also pushing for his reinstatement, one of the people said.

In one scenario being discussed, Altman would return as a director on a transitional board, one of the people said.

That the board and Altman are in communication is a significant development because until Monday, the directors largely refused to engage with the executive they fired Friday, several people have said. 

On Monday, the company’s Vice President of Global Affairs Anna Makanju sent a memo to staff saying the company had been in “intense discussions” with the board, Altman and new CEO Emmett Shear to unify the company. The message came after swathes of employees threatened to quit if Altman were not reinstated, among other demands.

The board has come under intense scrutiny for its decision to fire Altman, saying that the CEO was not “consistently candid in his communications.” In the days since, board members and staffers have said that the removal was unrelated to “malfeasance” or “safety,” leaving an information vacuum and prompting Microsoft Corp. CEO Satya Nadella to say publicly that he has have been given no explanation.

Even CEO Shear has been left in the dark, according to people familiar with the matter. He has told people close to OpenAI that he doesn’t plan to stick around if the board can’t clearly communicate to him its reasoning for Altman’s sudden firing. 

Until Friday, the company’s board consisted of Altman, President Greg Brockman, Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever, Quora Inc. CEO Adam D’Angelo, tech entrepreneur Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner, director of strategy at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology. After Altman’s exit, Brockman stepped down in protest.

OpenAI declined to comment on the negotiations. 

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