In this interview we look at the real power politics, the endless turf war between Ning Anhar and Mariam Kartikatresni, which paralyzed TBI for years. We interview the former manager of TBI Kuningan, the biggest school in the company, for insight into the toxic relationship of these TBI heavyweights.
I was once asked by a part-time teacher about the conflict between Martika Kartikatresni and Ning Anhar. How well-known was it in your experience?
Was the teacher Indonesian?
Yes she was. Why?
In my experience Indonesians in TBI understand a lot more about what is really going on than the expats. I think Luke tries to keep both Ning Anhar and Mariam Kartikatresni away from the teachers.
Would you say that the conflict between Ning Anhar and Mariam Kartikatresni was well-known in TBI?
It was very well-known amongst Indonesians. Whether the expat teachers know much about it, I doubt.
Give us a general overview of their relationship.
Mariam and Ning were enemies; they absolutely hate each other. They were caught in a struggle for control of TBI and USG for many years. Mind you, on the surface they pretend to be friends and be professional but they weren’t fooling anyone. Everyone in the know can you tell you they were locked in a bitter power struggle.
Can you give our other readers some examples of this bitter feud?
The first example that comes to mind is Pak Yoni. In mid-2011 Ning got rid of Mariam briefly as Director of TBI. I was introduced to Pak Yoni as the new TBI Director, but then Mariam came back from the dead like Jason in Friday the 13th Part II. It was Ning who had plotted to being the TBI Director down, but Mariam relied on her cash and connections to get herself reinstated. Her in-laws are on the board of the “charity” (yayasan) which runs TBI. I’ve also heard that Yoni’s ideas of reforming TBI were unpopular with the crooks, so he only lasted 2 weeks! There were multiple factors at play. It is said that Mariam was accused of unethical conduct, but really, coming from these people that is the norm. Mariam’s demotion was mostly due to power politics.
Whose side is Luke Preece, the controversial Australian manager, on?
He always told me how much he hated Mariam, but hating is hardly the point. He probably does loathe her, but she is his boss and he is her right-hand man. People in a mafia don’t actually like each other. They conspire together. Luke’s whole career in TBI is based upon the support and protection of Mariam.
But that’s not what he says, is it? When Mariam Kartikatresni was deposed as Director he rang a few different school managers and told them how happy he is.
Me included. I believed him that he wanted to make TBI more professional and was glad that Mariam’s ‘Reign of Error’ was at an end. But later after I knew he was a pathological liar, I needed to review everything he ever told me. I think he was actually worried when she was deposed. He had been too close to her and Yoni didn’t want much to do with him. He was trying to distance himself from Mariam once it looked like she was history. If Mariam ever goes, Luke won’t last very long without her protection.
How else have Mariam and Ning clashed swords over the years? What impact has it had on TBI?
I think it is absolutely devastating for TBI. They produce so little in terms of marketing or materials because they are so focused on these internal squabbles. From everything I’ve heard, USG was long divided down the middle into pro-Mariam and pro-Ning camps. I know of many competent Indonesian staff who have left the company because they tired of the endless bickering and power politics. Before anyone goes to work for Mariam they are given warnings. A normal person can’t stand much of all the back-stabbing and bitchiness which goes on. There is an endless flow of staff out of Head Office. The low productivity and poor market performance of TBI is at least partly due to the childish bickering which Ning and Mariam engage in.
How involved was Ning Anhar with TBI?
Barely at all. When I was manager at TBI Kuningan, their flagship school, she only ever came in once. When she came in, no one recognized her. This is perfectly understandable as she literally has nothing to do with TBI schools and people didn’t know who she was. But she flew into a rage and considered it an outrage people didn’t recognize her face. She seemed to believe that someone of her vast importance should be famous within TBI.
Did she introduce herself?
No she didn’t.
Did she tell people in advance she was coming in?
No she didn’t. She just turned up.
Why does she expect that complete strangers will recognize her if she doesn’t involve herself in day-to-day management?
I have no idea. But she is famous for this kind of behavior. People are warned in advance to stand when she approaches and to nod their head deferentially when she speaks to them. Indonesians in USG rise in her presence as if she is some kind of royalty. People at USG know she expects to be treated like royalty or she will fly into a rage.
This sounds like the height of narcissism. Did you find her a high-handed and pretentious woman?
In the extreme. Every danced around her, trying not to upset her for fear of her temper. For instance, we were warned not to move a glass ornament her daughter had designed. It sits in the library window at TBI Kuningan and Ning regarded the ugly thing as some kind of national treasure. We were told that it must not be moved under any circumstances or Ning might throw a wobbly.
They didn’t use those words presumably.
No. Of course not. No one dared criticize her or even contradict her even when she was completely in the wrong. For example, she once asked in a meeting why didn’t they send the former CELTA trainer Rob to fix a problem. At that point he had already left the company months ago. She had zero idea about TBI, but when she did get involved people used to pretend she was all wise and knowing and wouldn’t dare to contradict her on any point.
Is it true she insisted on being called “Bunda” rather than “Ibu”, as if were some kind of Mother Mary figure?
Yes. She insisted on being called “Bunda”, a highly honorific term for a mother which might be more appropriate for a queen or aristocrat.
How knowledgeable was she about TBI generally?
She knew nothing. She never spoke to managers let alone the teachers. She knew absolutely nothing about the business. I was told by Luke Preece that she actually hated TBI because its revenue was ten times higher than Uniprep and the other half-arsed businesses she had started under the USG umbrella.
Do you believe she hated TBI?
I don’t know if she hated it but she starved it of resources. I received dozens of students complaints a year about the poor computers at TBI Kuningan. They were years out of date and shockingly slow. But she vetoed every request for funds to improve facilities or even replace broken furniture. This happened through her representative Nena. At the same time she spent billions and billions of rupiah of TBI profits opening the UIC Design School in Pacific Plaza. Her daughter was in charge. So basically the profits from thousands of TBI students were being used all for Ning’s daughter to open a school. A classic case of selfish nepotism. When UIC opened it had less than 20 enrolments in its first semester despite billions spent setting it up and buying top of the range Apple computers. She looted TBI and cheated its trusting customers to pander to her own daughter.
Would you say her influence on TBI was all negative then?
She was nothing but a typical corruptor, looting TBI to enrich her own kids.
In the end, who won the war between Anhar and Kartikatresni?
As of early 2012, Mariam was getting the upper hand. Luke had driven Wati out of the company, and she was Ning’s crony. Mariam had defeated Pak Yoni and Mariam was back in charge to continue her Reign of Error. Also, as of late 2011, Ning had been diagnosed with breast cancer, which seemed to mark the end of her active involvement in the company. Luke had told me how happy he was to hear this a couple of months before he drove me out. That was when I really began to suspect he was evil. He saw the expression on my face and tried to back-pedal. He said something like, “Oh I don’t hope she dies. I just hope she gets really, really sick so she stops interfering in TBI.” In a way that sounded even more evil and twisted than just saying he was glad she had breast cancer. I really thought there must be something wrong with him.
Why would Luke Preece have been happy that a 77 year old woman had breast cancer?
I think he slipped. I am sure now that he is a sociopath, a socialized psychopath. Unlike the street thug, he was learned to wear a mask of respectability. But underneath, in his real self, he is a psycho who cares only about power, money and hurting people. From time to time the mask slips a little and we get a glimpse of his real self. He was glad Ning had cancer because he is allied with Mariam. If Ning died or was forced out, there would be more money for the TBI Mafia, based around himself and Mariam, to steal.
That’s a big slip.
He is more likely to make these slips after several beers. Apaprently, even psychos are more likely to tell the truth when drunk. But he is a talented liar. He covered it up by saying that he only wished she would be forced out of TBI so she would stop looting it and hurting its market performance.
Did you buy it?
Not really. This was towards the end of 2011 and I was keeping my distance more and more from him. I strongly suspected he was lying to me and deceiving me. My suspicions about him were already strongly aroused.
Do you believe he is much less clever than he thinks he is?
He is only a master of manipulation and stirring hatred and conflict. I don’t think he is very intelligent in any academic sense. I noticed from time to time that he struggled to understand abstract concepts for instance.
Do you think that TBI’s future will be any brighter without Ning Anhar?
It’s now 2014. They last sold a new franchise school in 2010 when Retty was in charge. Since Mariam and Luke gained control, their business has achieved absolutely nothing. Yes, Ning Anhar was a drain on TBI but are Reza, Mariam and Luke any better? The solution for TBI’s woes is not to transfer it from one corrupt, unprofessional scoundrel to another. TBI has been hijacked by a bunch of thieves and liars. It can’t even get expat teachers with the right qaulifciations. Frankly, it is yesterday’s news.