Sam Altman has said he will return as the CEO of OpenAI. This decision comes after a challenging week of changes in the company, including hiring, firing, and adjustments in the board. Sam Altman, who is also a co-founder, joins the group of leaders who have returned to their roles after taking a break from executive positions.
OpenAI revealed on Wednesday that Altman is in the process of finalizing a deal to come back to the company. This move also includes the return of co-founder Greg Brockman and the formation of a new “initial board.” All of this is happening just five days after Altman was unexpectedly fired by the company’s previous board.
CEO Comebacks: Stories of Iger, Ermotti, Dell, and Lake
In a similar situation, Robert Iger took longer than five days to return as Disney’s CEO last November. This return followed the sudden removal of his chosen successor, Robert Chapek. Iger had initially stepped down from his role in 2020 after serving as Disney’s CEO for 15 years but came back in 2022 with the goal of charting a “strategic direction for renewed growth” after the challenges brought on by the pandemic.
Sergio Ermotti is now in his second term as the CEO of UBS. He first held the position for nine years, from 2011 to 2020, and was succeeded by Ralph Hamers. However, Ermotti came back this spring to oversee UBS’s acquisition of the struggling Credit Suisse.
In a similar move, billionaire Michael Dell stepped down as the CEO of Dell Inc. in 2004 to become the chairman of the board. He returned as the chief executive in 2007 and later orchestrated a merger with EMC Corporation, forming Dell Technologies. Michael Dell continues to serve as the CEO of Dell Technologies to this day.
Katrina Lake made a comeback as the CEO of StitchFix in January of this year. She originally founded and led the clothing company by mail from 2010 to 2021. However, she stepped down again in June and was succeeded by Matt Baer, the former digital chief of Macy’s.
Stories of Bloomberg, Schultz, Dorsey, and Schwab
In a similar fashion, Michael Bloomberg, currently the 11th richest person globally, served as the CEO of his media and financial company Bloomberg L.P. from its establishment in 1981 until 2001. He then resigned to serve three terms as the mayor of New York City. Later, he returned to his role in 2014 until earlier this year, when Vlad Kliatchko took over as the replacement.
Howard Schultz, a billionaire, resigned as the CEO of Starbucks in March, marking his third departure from the role. He initially held the position from 1986 to 2000, returned from 2008 to 2017, and then took on an interim CEO role in April 2022 until the appointment of his successor, Laxman Narasimhan.
Jack Dorsey, the billionaire founder of Twitter, had two separate periods as the CEO of the social media platform. He served as its initial chief executive from 2006 to 2008 and returned as CEO from 2015 to 2021. Dorsey was then succeeded by Parag Agrawal, who was subsequently fired when Elon Musk acquired the company.
During the initial 37 years of its existence, the Charles Schwab Corporation was under the leadership of its founder, Charles Schwab. He held the position of CEO from 1971 to 1998, then shared the title with David Pottruck from 1998 to 2003. Schwab briefly handed over the role to Pottruck for a single year before reclaiming it again from 2004 to 2008.
Steve Jobs and The Unconventional Return to Apple
Steve Jobs made a highly memorable comeback to Apple, the company he founded in 1997. However, he doesn’t fit the technical definition of a “boomerang CEO.” When Jobs initially departed from Apple in 1985, he wasn’t the chief executive at that time.
In the mid-1980s, he was advocating for a shift towards personal computers, but due to a lack of support for this direction from then-CEO John Sculley, Jobs left the company.
He went on to establish the rival company NeXT and achieved billionaire status through his investments in Pixar during his time away. Jobs returned to Apple as CEO in 1997 but resigned just before his passing in 2011.
Altman’s Quick Return as CEO
Altman’s rapid return as CEO is possibly one of the quickest turnarounds ever witnessed. He was unexpectedly removed from his role on Friday following a board decision, citing a review that highlighted concerns about his communication with the board. The decision faced swift criticism, and within hours, co-founder Greg Brockman announced his departure.
By Monday, Altman and Brockman had been appointed to lead Microsoft‘s AI research unit. On the same day, 95% of OpenAI’s employees signed a letter, threatening to resign unless Altman was reinstated. The new board of directors now includes Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers as new members, with Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo remaining on the board.
Wealthy Executives Who Came Back
Several CEOs who have made comebacks are among the wealthiest individuals globally. Michael Bloomberg currently holds the 11th position on Forbes’ real-time billionaires list, boasting an estimated net worth of $96.3 billion.
Michael Dell ranks as the 16th richest person globally, with a net worth of $68.9 billion. Charles Schwab’s net worth is $8.6 billion, Jack Dorsey is estimated to be worth $3.9 billion, and Howard Schultz has amassed a personal fortune of $3.3 billion.
CEOs making comebacks face challenges and success stories. Altman’s swift return to OpenAI sparked employee concerns. Iger’s strategic comeback at Disney, Ermotti’s dual terms at UBS, and Michael Dell’s leadership resurgence stand out. Wealthy executives like Bloomberg, Dell, Schwab, Dorsey, and Schultz showcase resilience and financial success in their return journeys.