The TBI Mafia- 2011: The Year of Axing Furiously (Part 5 of 6)

This interview explores the notion that 2011 was the year the TBI Mafia moved against all “non-allied” managers with a series of axings, cementing their control over the company. It also touches on the way they terminally damaged their reputation in the process. The interview is with a former manager of TBI Kuningan who Luke divulged many TBI secrets to between 2010-2011.

Who was responsible for removing Retty Setiawan, the long-term Head of Franchise, at the end of 2010?

It was Luke who was pushing for her to be axed and Mariam who gave the axing the green light.

How did Luke Preece get rid of Retty?

He undermined her little by little. Every time he spoke to someone from a franchise school, he would as them questions about how she was doing and collect “dirt” he could use against her. Anything negative he found out, he would then vocally broadcast around Head Office in an attempt to damage her reputation. It worked well. In the end he even managed to force her out of her office as a way of publicly humiliating her.

Why and when did her force this manager out of her own office?

He complained that he was now acting Franchise Manager and she wasn’t and complained it wasn’t fair she still had her own space when he didn’t. He basically kept up the pressure till they forced her out of her own office.

Would you agree that he “hounded” her out of the company?


I have seen a three-page report he sent to Mariam at the end of 2010 in which he said that “based on his achievements within TBI” the logical choice was to axe Retty and let him run Franchise. Do you have any insight into why he claimed to be so superior to Retty?

He basically talks himself and runs everyone else down. His biggest talent is in saying how great he is and how useless and hated everyone else is. The main thing that helped him is that most people are too polite or too scared to point out how full of shit he is. Also Mariam never fact checks anything due to her laziness and incompetence, so he can say anything he likes and it is unlikely to ever be questioned.

In her time in the job, Retty sold 11 franchises, including Depok and Cibubur, which opened after she left. Luke, in the following 3 years, has sold none. Would you agree that Preece has actually been a complete disaster in the role compared to Retty?

Completely. He has not sold a single franchise since he got the role. Zero expansion. I can’t see how that can be called anything but a complete failure.

Sam Brennan, the owner of TBI Surabaya, contacted me a while back and alleged the lack of new franchise schools is a good thing. They are fixing up the dodgy ones before they open up any new ones. According to Sam, Luke’s utter lack of new franchise schools is actually some kind of proof of his integrity. How do you respond to this argument?

I can’t see it is anything but nonsense and spin. If someone wanted to throw 500 million rupiah at them to open a new school do you think they wouldn’t leap over themselves to collect the franchise fee? Also what dodgy schools? A while back they were saying that TBI was “the best language school in Indonesia” and “the benchmark for quality education.” Remember when we were accused of being liars for saying that dodgy TBI schools even existed? It’s interesting to watch how they change their stories all the time to suit themselves. Make no mistake, Preece has been like the cold hand of death on their franchise schools.

Did Preece have any role in getting the former CELTA trainer RW fired?

He was very vocal against RW on two points. One, he said that RW was too old and couldn’t do his job properly any more. Secondly, he said that RW was very lazy and did not no work except when the CELTA was running. He basically slandered his name all over the place until Mariam caved and agreed he had to go.

Did Preece confront RW with these concerns himself or did he just stab him from behind like a cheap hood as usual?

He stabbed him from behind as usual. He operates in the shadows.

How did RD, the long-term manager of TBI Bogor, find himself on the chopping block in 2011?

Ashley Platts, a very unpopular former manager who re-invented himself as a “management consultant”, organized a secret meeting with the owner where he presented various graphs and tables that showed how much more money the owner could make if he fired RD as a manager and replaced him with an Indonesian on low wages.

So Ashley, this spider, ambushed RD in a secret meeting and didn’t even give him a chance to defend himself?

That’s right. It was all done by stealth as usual.

Why do you believe that Ashley and Luke were on the same team?

Luke told me a number of times that Ashley was “untouchable”. He had been a close associate of Mariam and Ning for years and knew all the dirty laundry. Also Luke confirmed to me later that he had known about Ashley’s intentions in advance and had done nothing to stop him. I have never known either of them to do anything except kiss Mariam’s butt and close ranks against any challenge to Mariam’s clique.

Did the axings end with Retty, RD, RW, all long-term managers at TBI?

Sadly, they didn’t. I mean I only became school manager at TBI Kuningan in 2011 because Luke had just axed Wati, the replacement of Chris, who he also played a big hand in getting rid of. So Wati was the axing who saw in 2011. In late 2011 he also moved against Monica, the Head of Academics. This was when he was really starting to sicken me and I was only keeping up appearances being polite to him. He used his best friend Scott Martin and another lackey, Alex, to demand that Monica, then seven months’ pregnant, be fired as Head of Academics. By this point I was fed up with him and warned her of what had happened. She thanked me and went on to fight the axing, but she was gone by several months’ later, shunted off into some make-work job at USG. Then in November he told me I was in danger of being deported if I didn’t resign- a threat which he later said he “didn’t remember making.” I went to Mariam and she refused to even investigate the claims of fraud against Luke, offering to pay me out almost $6000 of unpaid salaries and benefits in exchange for signing a “silence agreement” and swearing I wouldn’t ask any more questions about Luke Preece or his history with TBI!

How incredibly incriminating!

She cancelled every meeting I made with her several times. When I spoke to her, she acted like a deer caught in the headlights. Sean and Lipi had the same experience. They refused to answer any questions based on “legal advice” and just tried to bribe our silence with offering to pay out our contracts.

Did you accept the offer?

I did sign the silence agreement but she also agreed to stop Luke Preece from trying to stop my transfer to TBI Kelapa Gading. She signed that agreement. Sadly, she is unable to control Luke and he went straight to the owners of TBI Kelapa Gading and started lobbying them to fire Sean and block my transfer. In short, she broke her own agreement. Based on this, we eventually decided to resign from TBI 3 months later and start this blog.

Was there any pattern to all these axings and attempted axings?

Wati, Retty, RW, RD, me, Monica, Sean and GA: that was every single school manager left who had ever stood up to Luke and Mariam, and he tried to get them all fired. That was every independent-minded person who was not beholden to Luke, and he moved against them all. They were the last managers who weren’t Luke’s stooges. Scott, Alex, Lilis and Eny… they were either Luke’s friend, mistress or yes-woman who had agreed to help him bully and hound people out of the company. They were no threat to him- they had already sold out. Once Luke had got rid of the last 8 independent-minded people- and he got rid of 6 of them in 2011 alone- he and Mariam fully controlled TBI. It was a hijacking by Luke which Mariam supported and condoned. But since it happened, they have not sold a single new franchise and their market share has been crumbling. Wall Street have now decimated them in Jakarta and many of their branches are zombie schools with very few students. They got rid of their rivals but badly damaged their whole business in the process by driving out most of the management know-how.

They would deny there’s anything wrong.

I wonder is there anyone who would want to invest in a TBI franchise at this point? I haven’t seen a new one since 2011, and it was sold by Retty. They have a bad reputation now and their business is stagnant. They have badly damaged their rep with these antics. They probably don’t care as they now have their noses in the trough at every TBI school without any critical supervision. But they damaged this company, perhaps forever, with their greed and dishonesty.

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