You have criticized Ashley Platts and Mariam Kartikatresni for their roles in the Helmy V. disaster. Did Luke Preece play any role in this matter?
None whatsoever. In mid 2009, Luke Preece, Lilies Agustine and Matthew France were all tucked away at TBI Dago together. It was a shame for TBI that they ever moved to Jakarta.
Did Pauwsan Sutanto, the franchise owner, offer any help?
At this point I felt sorry for Pauwsan. Retty, Ashley and Mariam had recommended a fool, Helmy, as a school manager. It was actually worse than that, of course- they had recommended a sexual predator and a thief as a school manager, but that lovely discovery was yet to be made. For all I knew in mid-2009, Pauwsan was the blameless victim of TBI nepotism and deceit. I spoke to him a few times in mid-2009 on the quiet. He would always ask me outside to talk in the car park so no one could hear.
Once I was Academic Team Leader I got to know more about the business. Helmy wasn’t in the school many hours a day so I started taking over more of the decision making. During one of these little meetings, Pauwsan told me that he had caught Helmy V. stealing from him. He said in the month of the theft, the school had lost Rp 80.000.000 in a single month. He said he didn’t have the capital available to keep running the school on that basis and would have to close it things didn’t turn around.
Did he fire Helmy V. immediately for theft?
No he didn’t. Pauwsan has a history of being stolen from. You’ll remember that the first Office Supervisor Niah had allegedly embezzled a sum ‘much larger than $16,000’ when BF was manager. No charges were pressed. No charges were ever pressed against Helmy V. either and the option was never even discussed.
Pauwsan Sutanto later told me point-blank that he had never paid any taxes on PT. Dian Harapan Prima, the business which owned TBI Kelapa Gading. Someone engaged in massive tax avoidance does not want government authorities anywhere near his business. Including the police.
So Pauwsan wanted to keep Helmy, an alleged thief, as school manager?
Not exactly. This is when he came up with a ridiculous plan which I now see as totally typical of his style. He said that he wanted to fire Helmy V. but was scared to do it before Ramadan. As a Chinese-Indonesian businessman he was afraid of ethnic conflict and didn’t want to create ethnic tensions. So he asked if I would secretly manage TBI Kelapa Gading as school manager for the next few weeks. He would tell Nissa and Rima and all the other office staff that I was going to become the new school manager but he wouldn’t tell Helmy himself. I would just secretly give instructions to Nissa and Rima and they would put them into action.
Sounds like a farce. How did it work out?
Like a farce. The problem was the school was collapsing, so major changes needed to be made. We had a list of parents saying they would pull out their kids if they didn’t get a new Native Speaker teacher soon and the school was already losing a lot of money.
Accepting Pauwsan’s proposal was a poor decision. I should have said, “You tell me when you are ready to get rid of Helmy V. and I will accept the school manager role then.” I’m not an assertive person so I didn’t do that. One factor I was taking into consideration was that Rp 80.000.000 loss. I knew that Helmy would have no idea how to find Native Speaker teachers and there was no one to replace C*****, who had allegedly assaulted a child the year before. If Helmy stayed in charge much longer, Kelapa Gading would probably have hit 100 students or less. It could easily have gone bankrupt I thought.
So I took the role and you, Cam, helped me out a lot. I started interviewing teachers whose CVS you forwarded me and I employed two out of three interviewees in a week. One had no teaching experience whatsoever and had just finished his CELTA and the other seemed less than ideal in terms of his demo lesson, but they were both polite and I thought we could make a go of it. There was no time left to wait for other applicants due to the parent and student ultimatums that had been delivered.
How did Helmy react to you hiring two teachers?
I asked him to sit in the interviews as well as a kind of cover. I said I was taking care of it mostly because teaching as an Academic Team Leader kind of job. He didn’t create much of a scene at first.
Why do you say at first?
Once these two new English teachers were in place, some students came back. From that low of 120, we had soon steadied at around 150 to 160 students. I knew that the school was starting to recover- or at least the worst was past. But Helmy was more and more doing nothing. In fact he was doing worse than nothing. Around this time I caught him holding hands with one of his students in the former canteen one night; he had clearly seduced her. I knew he was nothing but a liability.
Just after this time I closed a couple of classes in order to make the timetable more efficient. At this point Helmy confronted me and said that he was the school manager and I should leave the scheduling to him. The changes were necessary to open new classes for the new teachers but Helmy was starting to resent my increased role in management. He started to become quite angry towards me. Of course he didn’t know that Pauwsan Sutanto had secretly told everyone I was going to be in charge after Ramadan.
Also he kept making ludicrous decisions. He offered one class a free day at Dunia Fantasi and promised another class coffee and donuts to the value of Rp 600.000 at J.Ecko Donuts. He bought a wide-screen TV and a new sofa for the nannies. He kept thinking of expensive ideas which added nothing educationally and gobbled up all the money.
I eventually went to Pauwsan and told him I didn’t think the secret manager idea was any good. I told him I’d just just do pure academics and to tell me if and when he was ready to remove Helmy. After Ramadan Helmy still wasn’t gone. I spoke to Pauwsan and he said Helmy had one more marketing project he wanted him to finish first. I told him that Helmy was having a romantic intrigue with a 19 year old girl who has one of his students, that the Business class had refused to accept Helmy as a teacher and so now he wasn’t teaching at all, and that the student assistants at Kelapa Gading had complained of unwanted sexual comments from him.
I also told him of the new information I’d found out about Helmy’s true record of service at TBI Semarang, including the alleged sexual misconduct and the theft. At this point he finally removed Helmy and didn’t speak to Head Office again for 18 months- or so he told me. I have reason to doubt the truthfulness of this.
Why do you think he kept delaying the removal of Helmy when he had caught him stealing tens of millions of rupiah?
At the time I thought he was just a hesitant and incompetent business manager. I thought he just mismanaged everything and was taken advantage of time and again by unscrupulous people like Niah, Nissa, Helmy and Ashley. But in my final weeks with the company in 2012 Pauwsan let something slip which shed a new light on these events. I said to him that I sensed Mariam hated me, and he looked at me and says, “Oh she does hate you Sean. She really hates you. If it hadn’t been for me you would never been have school manager. She has been pushing me and my wife to fire you all along.”
So I think the reason Helmy stayed so long was because of Mariam. I was not part of her clique and she hated me with a passion for becoming school manager at TBI without her approval. She is actually a bully and a complete narcissist. Heaven help anyone who offends her over-inflated sense of importance. I would guess that the reason Pauwsan kept a known thief as school manager was because Mariam was trying every tactic she could to stop him from appointing me as school manger. She was using all the scare tactics and misinformation which is the real ‘TBI way’.
Why do you think he finally ignored her?
I think because her choice, Helmy, was so completely useless. What Mariam doesn’t understand is that if you act in a corrupt, nepotistic manner over and over again you are slowly eroding other people’s trust in you. Despite all the authority she has, very few people respect her. People know she is dishonest and unscrupulous. By the following year all franchise owners had refused to deal with either her or Retty. This was surely due in part to the Helmy V. affair.
This is also surely why she hated me more than she ever hated you, Cam. She blamed me for humiliating her in front of all the franchise owners. What I would say to Mariam is that, really, it is her own corruption which is the reason why people want less and less to do with her. She is the author of her own misfortunes and it’s time she took some responsibility for the truly wretched manager that she is.