An extraordinary sequence. Last week ended with Sam Altman outside OpenAI, creator of ChatGPT, by decision of the board of directors. In the middle, an agreement with Microsoft appeared to lead research in artificial intelligence. And since yesterday he is back at his startup, settled in the position of CEO. “I love OpenAI and everything I have done in the last few days has been to keep this team and its mission together,” he wrote on his profile on X (Twitter) on Wednesday.
It is still unclear what happened. The reason given by the board of directors was that Sam Altman had not been truthful in his communications. They even announced the hiring of Emmett Shear—former CEO of Twitch—to replace him. But reactions erupted everywhere. Almost all OpenAI employees threatened to leave in a public letter. And Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also put pressure on it by speaking openly to the media about the crisis and his intention to hire Altman and Greg Brockman, who was president of OpenAI.
Yesterday finally came the formal announcement of Saint Altman’s return, but not everyone is sure the show is over. «We are collaborating to resolve the details. Thank you very much for his patience in all of this », published the official OpenAI account on X. “OpenAI is nothing without its people.” And although it may seem like an extraordinary situation, it has not been unique.
In the last decades, The technology industry has experienced several dramas similar to that of Sam Altman. That is, executive directors who left their companies—by their own decision or that of others—only to end up returning some time later. Below we review some of the most famous cases.
Cases similar to that of Sam Altman: Steve Jobs, the most emblematic
This is, without a doubt, the most emblematic case. The founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, left the company in 1985, also after an intense sequence of internal disagreements. Especially with the company’s then CEO, John Sculley. Quite a paradox, because it was Jobs himself who had signed Sculley when he worked for Pepsi.
Macintosh, among other things, had not met expected commercial expectations and the relationship between Jobs and Sculley gradually deteriorated. In May 1985, in the midst of a profound internal restructuring, Sculley removed Jobs from his main responsibilities. Months later, Jobs left Apple and founded NeXT.
Unlike Sam Altman with OpenAI, Steve Jobs’ return to Cupertino was not immediate. Those on the block had to wait more than a decade to see his most important figure return, in the midst of his worst crisis. In 1996, Apple bought NeXT and brought the entrepreneur back. In 1997, Jobs resumed as CEO and began the path that not only pulled the company out of the mud, but also made it the most valuable in the world.
“I would have liked, in retrospect, to find Steve again and say, ‘I want to help you get back to Apple.’ “I wish Apple had rehired him sooner,” Sculley acknowledged in 2015, in an interview with cnn.
Bob Iger, the man trying to put Disney in order
Bob Iger became CEO of Disney in 2005 and remained so for the next 15 years. During his management, the purchases of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and most of 21st Century Fox were completed. Until in 2020 he announced his intention to retire from it. “It is not always good for a person to have too much power for too long.”he says in his autobiography The trip of a lifetime (2019).
With the COVID-19 pandemic still nascent, Disney did not expect such a challenging outlook with Iger’s departure. Although the executive never completely left the company – he continued to be part of the board of directors until the end of 2021 -, at the end of 2022 the news of his return as CEO was surprising.
Bob Chapek’s failed tenure, which included operating losses at his streaming unit, actress Scarlett Johansson’s controversial lawsuit, and several other controversies, fueled his comeback.
Thus, Bob Iger reached a multimillion-dollar agreement with Disney to run the company, at least until 2026. “Time and time again, Bob has demonstrated an unparalleled ability to successfully transform Disney”Mark Parker, the company’s president, said in July. Of course, not everything has been rosy since his return. To the layoffs in its different divisions, multiple commercial failures of its studios’ films have been added, including those of Marvel.
Michael Dell, another “young wonder” as Sam Altman
Michael Dell He also left and returned from managing his own company, but without as much controversy as in the case of Sam Altman. Dell founded his computer company in 1984, when he was just 19 years old. In just a few years it managed to establish itself as one of the most important computer manufacturers in the world.
In 1992, Michael Dell became the youngest CEO to make the Fortune 500.. He served as CEO for more than 20 years, until he resigned from the role in 2004. However, he remained with the company as chairman of the board of directors.
But his return came faster than expected. In 2007, after a string of below-target quarterly financial reports, He resumed leadership of the company to replace Kevin Rollins. Back as CEO, he led the acquisition of EMC Corporation in 2015, in exchange for $67 billion. It was, at the time, the most expensive purchase in the history of the technology sector, recently surpassed by Microsoft from Activision Blizzard for $68.9 billion.
Michael Dell still fulfills his role as CEO of the firm that bears his surname and is among the top 20 richest businessmen in the world.
Jack Dorsey and the case of Twitter
Jack Dorsey He was one of the founders of Twitter, now known as X. He became its CEO in 2006. In 2008, co-founder Evan Williams took over, while Dorsey became chairman of the board. During this time, he founded the digital payments application Squarewhich also became a multi-million dollar company.
He became CEO again in 2015, after Dick Costolo give up. The aforementioned had left the position in the middle of a controversy over his comments about how he was embarrassed that the company could not end the abuse content and the trolls.
Without relinquishing Square’s leadership, Dorsey held the position for another six years. In 2021, he announced his departure in a tweet. «Finally, it’s time for me to go», he wrote in a statement, saying the company was “ready to move forward.” While he was not fired like Sam Altman, Jack Dorsey was pressured to resign by some investors who were demanding a sole CEO for Twitter.
The one who did suffer a similar fate to Sam Altman was Parag Agrawal, at least in regards to his dismissal. Jack Dorsey’s successor was the last CEO of Twitter until Elon Musk bought the social network. The executive was in charge of managing the company during the chaotic transition until the tycoon took over the firm, and he was removed from his position. Of course, unlike Altman, neither Agrawal nor Dorsey will be returning to the Californian company soon.