OpenAI’s former chief Sam Altman agreed in principle to return to lead the company just five days after being removed, with a new board set to be installed at the ChatGPT developer.

In a social media post, OpenAI revealed the surprising move, adding the details of its former leader’s comeback were still being finalised.

The move comes after threats of a mass exodus by staff and investor pressure in the wake of Altman’s departure, and after he had taken a job at Microsoft to lead an AI research team there.

OpenAI had also already appointed an interim CEO in Emmett Shear.

Altman’s likely return was welcomed in social media posts by the executive himself, Shear and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Although quick to offer roles to Altman and fellow ex-OpenAI employee Greg Brockman earlier this week, Microsoft is a major financial backer and partner of the company.

Brockman was not mentioned by OpenAI itself, but indicated he also intended to return to the company in his own social media post.

Altman highlighted when he agreed to join Microsoft, it was “clear that was the best path for me and the team”.

However, with a new board being installed at his former employer and the support of Nadella, he said he was looking forward to reprising his old role and “building on our strong partnership” with Microsoft.

Nadella noted board changes at the ChatGPT developer were “a first essential step on a path to more stable, well-informed, and effective governance”. He added together with Brockman and Altman they had agreed “they have a key role to play” in ensuring the AI company “continues to thrive and build on its mission.”

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This was the pathway that maximised safety alongside doing right by all stakeholders involved.

Emmett Shear, interim CEO OpenAI

Shear said he was “deeply pleased by this result”, which came after around three days of “intense” work.

“Coming into OpenAI, I wasn’t sure what the right path would be. This was the pathway that maximised safety alongside doing right by all stakeholders involved. I’m glad to have been a part of the solution.”

Altman was ousted by the board on 17 November after it concluded he “was not consistently candid in his communications” and it had lost confidence in him.