In the high-stakes world of corporate leadership, the journey of a CEO can often resemble a rollercoaster ride, filled with unexpected twists and turns.
Recently, we witnessed a prime example of this with Sam Altman of OpenAI, who was fired from his company, only to return days later with a brand new board on the team.
Our AI Industry Specialist, had this to say,
“Microsoft has obviously not lost confidence in Altman’s ability to lead OpenAI, especially given the fact that they fired the whole board in order to get him back. A second chance like this can lead to even greater achievements, we have seen it time and time again, and I think that’s the plan Altman has in store. It will be exciting to see what the future holds for OpenAI and the trickle down effect this will have on those that use it.”
Moments like this make us think, who else has got the boot as CEO only to return later and save the day?
Let’s take a look.
Sam Altman – OpenAI
In the past few days we have seen a dramatic turn of events, with Sam Altman, the OpenAI CEO, being fired by the company board on Friday 17th November.
However, it didn’t last too long, as he was rehired on Monday 20th November, with a brand new board – so there weren’t any awkward hellos that morning.
Although we don’t have any idea of what specifically led to Altman getting the boot, one thing did become clear, he has the backing of Microsoft (OpenAI’s biggest investor), as they pushed to bring him back as CEO.
It’s all been an incredible twist of events and subsequently led to another question – What other CEOs have been fired from their company? Let’s take a look.
Steve Jobs – Apple
Perhaps the most famous example, Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple in 1985, a company he co-founded, due to a power struggle with the board and the then-CEO John Sculley.
It wasn’t until 1996, 11 years later, that Apple announced it would acquire Next Computer and bring Steve Jobs back into the fold.
Soon he became interim CEO, and eventually permanent CEO, marking his triumphant return. He went on to lead Apple’s resurgence with iconic products like the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad before sadly passing away in 2011.
Howard Schultz – Starbucks
Howard Schultz joined Starbucks in 1982 and later bought the company for $3.8 million in 1987. He stepped down as CEO in 2000 but returned in 2008 as the company struggled.
Under his renewed leadership, Starbucks expanded globally and introduced significant changes to revitalise the brand. He shut underperforming locations, cut costs, revamped the menu, and focused on the customer experience.
The moves reignited growth, despite the Great Recession. Schultz remained CEO until 2017 when he became executive chairman. His second stint defined the modern, global goliath Starbucks that we know today.
Michael Dell at Dell Technologies
Michael Dell founded Dell in his dorm room in 1984. The company grew rapidly through the 1980s and 1990s, but in 2004, he stepped down as CEO, although he did remain Chairman of the board.
By 2007, Dell’s financial performance had weakened considerably and the stock price dropped by over 50%.
Dell then returned as CEO in 2007 to right the ship. He focused on returning Dell to its core competency around direct-to-consumer PC sales while laying the groundwork for long-term enterprise growth.
A.G. Lafley at Procter & Gamble
Lafley first became CEO of consumer products giant Procter & Gamble in 2000. He succeeded Durk Jager, who had a very short and unsuccessful tenure marred by organisational challenges and stagnant growth.
In 2009, Lafley announced his retirement, with Bob McDonald taking over as CEO. McDonald had a rocky tenure as P&G continued to stagnate, prompting growing investor dissatisfaction.
In 2013, P&G’s board took drastic action, swapping the CEO role again by bringing back Lafley from retirement to help stabilise the company. Lafley’s encore focused on right-sizing operations, doubling down on leading brands, and correcting a disrupted innovation pipeline.
So there you have it, 5 CEOs who got the boot only to later return and save the company. Their comeback stories are not just about resilience, but also about the deep understanding and connection they had with their respective organizations.
Each one, in their unique way, navigated through tough challenges, leveraging their experience and insights to steer their companies back to success. These remarkable journeys serve as powerful examples of leadership and determination, proving that sometimes, a second chance can lead to even greater achievements.