How Mariam Crippled TBI (Part 1 of 3)

Most expats who work or have worked for TBI will have only a very superficial knowledge of who Mariam even was. As we said long ago, the business management literature says that one of the surest signs you have a bad CEO or Director is that key personnel go long periods without even seeing her. When Cameron was School Manager of Jakarta schools for 2 years she never once came into Kuningan and just sat down and asked how things were going, and think of this point: Kuningan was the most profitable school in the whole group. She never once called me as SM in 2 and a half years just to check how Kelapa Gading was going. In her laziness, she used Ashley Platts and especially Luke Preece as the gateways through which all information passed to her. In the end we learned that this was little more than a bunch of self-serving lies. 

With Indonesians Mariam was feared. She insisted on being called by the honorific title of ‘Ibu Mariam’, even by expat managers, putting herself on a higher level of formality than everyone else. She would call other people by their first name but she insisted on being called ‘Ibu’ Mariam to signal that she was higher up the food chain. If an expat blundered in and called her just Mariam, others would step in and quietly whisper how inappropriate it was.

You had to kowtow to her too in many other ways. I recall being at one of their annual manager talk-fests. There were surveys handed out for each session on which you were asked to rate each session and speech from 1 to 5 on how relevant, interesting, useful etc. it was. I noticed as I put my survey down on the table that all of Mariam sessions had been rated 5-5-5 by Indonesian staff. She was outstanding, brilliant, amazing. I looked down through the bundle and saw they were all the same. There were no names mind you on these surveys but the mere thought that Mariam might know they had rated her less than 5 was enough to force the Indonesians into terror. Mariam’s narcissistic tantrums and rages were the stuff of legend and she was universally despised by anyone who knew her and her vain, arrogant posturing.

Even since this blog started I have talked with several Indonesian staff who have said, ‘We can’t support you vocally, but we know what you are saying is true.” One formerly highly placed person at Head Office described the whole situation of Mariam’s directorship as endless internal politicking and paralysis. No real work gets done and nothing much gets produced but there is endless power plays, rumours, gossiping and plots to oust rivals. This source described the petty and nasty politicking as unbearable and after years working as a teacher, this source left soon after moving to Head Office. As person after person has told us all along, working for Mariam was a nightmare. Forget about EF and Wall Street, the real enemy is always other TBI employees and managers and the knives and axes are always out.

Luke taunted us yesterday under his ‘Michelle’ alias that we don’t know what’s really going on inside TBI any more. This is both true and false. It is true we only get tidbits of information here and there, and don’t know much of the real picture. But on the other hand I say it is false. What happens inside TBI now is clearly what always happened: the knives are out. Very little real work is produced, and most staff are bone idle. The website, for example, hasn’t changed in 8 months. There are no new courses or schools or anything else tangible or impressive. Mariam has gone as TBI Director and that is huge but who hangs above her? Reza Suriansha, who has overseen tax evasion and lying to the government about teacher salaries for years. In short, one crook has been replaced with another, and no real progress is evident in developing TBI. Actually it has shrunk! 

So I say to Luke, I think I do know what is going on inside TBI. Mariam has gone- great news for everyone- but really all that is happening is the shuffling of deck chairs on the Titanic. 


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