The Early History of TBI Kelapa Gading: 2006-2008

This interview, with a former manager of TBI Kelapa Gading, covers the early history of TBI Kelapa Gading and explores why it lost most its early customers within 2 years.

What can you tell us about the establishment of TBI Kelapa Gading?

The school was opened in 2006 as a Franchise school. It was sold to a group of three different owners / investors by Retty, who was then the Head of Franchise and who had sold all of the TBI franchise schools to investors. One of these owners is called Pauwsan Sutanto. He was the one who came into the school and spoke to the staff. The other owner is called Djaladin Djaprie. I didn’t lay eyes on him until 18 months after I started as a teacher there. There was a third owner, but he died at some point in 2007 or 2008 and Djaprie and Sutanto took over his share of the business. I have no idea at all whether they brought out his stake, but after he passed away there was only the pair of them. Pauwsan’s wife Diana Sutanto also took an interest in the business, but she wasn’t referred to as an owner or partner.

What kind of instructors did they use in the early days? How many Native Speakers were there?

I started in August 2008, at which point the school had probably been open around two and a half years. When I joined there were only expats in the school. There were two other teachers, C **** and M***. Both of them were British. There were no Indonesian teachers at all in the school. The school manager BF was an American citizen who had lived in Indonesia since the 1980s. His opinion was that students in the Kelapa Gading market were wealthy and were only interested in Native Speaker teachers. He point blank refused to hire Indonesian teachers and was very adamant on this point. I later learned from other sources that Indonesian teachers had been employed at one point, at least on a part-time basis, but by the time I was there, B**** was having none of it.

Much later, after the Office Supervisor, Nissa, was fired for theft, I found some records from the early days of the school. According to the reports, TBI had opened with 6 Native Speaker teachers on the books. This tallied with what I had been told. Many of them clashed with B**** and resigned. Some left Indonesia and others went to better-paying jobs in National Plus schools. Within 2 and a half years they have gone from 6 to 3 Native Speaker teachers.

Was the school successful at first?

Broadly speaking, yes. It seems that when TBI Kelapa Gading opened, new enrolments flooded in. In 2006 TBI had a good reputation and TBI Setiabudi, the forerunner of TBI Menara Kuningan, was well-regarded. I have heard that a good marketing campaign accompanied the opening and student numbers were great. A couple of times I have heard people say that student enrolments peaked at 400 students- once from Mariam and once from Nissa. This turns out to be an exaggeration, actually. I eventually found the files for 2006 after I cleared out a filing cabinet and the highest number on that was around 360. And that was the highest week for the whole year. What was interesting too was how quickly the numbers trailed off. There were far more students in the early months than there were by the end of the year. I would deduce that discerning customers were disappointed by what they saw. The school numbers declined from a high of around 360 to the around 300 pretty quickly.

Also there was another gigantic problem with these stats. BF was a very negligent boss, and there was a chronic problem with late payments. Pauwsan Sutanto had mentioned this to me and this report which I found illustrated the point very clearly. In that week when 360 students were on the registers, only 260 had paid. And this wasn’t a one off. The trend was that 50 to 100 students were more than a month late at any time. I had heard from Nissa that many of these would then just drop out leaving large debts. So when Brian was saying he had 300 to 350 students taught by 6 expat teachers, what he really meant was that he had 250 to 300 paying students taught by 6 expat teachers. This was a highly inefficient use of resources and so he was probably quite happy to lose some of these expats, as he had far too many for the number of paying customers.

How culpable do you think this American school manager, BF, was for the school’s decline?

As I said, he was a very negligent boss. He offered no real guidance to teachers. One of our expat teachers was 20 years old and all B**** ever did was yell at him. Zero management skills there. We never had proper staff meetings and it was common for a month to pass without B**** appearing in the staffroom at all. He would only turn up when something went wrong, such as when he received a serious customer complaint, and then he would start yelling . But screaming at people does not make them better teachers. He seemed to think that he could sit in his office watching porn and playing Solitaire on the computer and everything would be okay. Then when things very predictably went wrong, he thought losing his temper would put it to rights.

Was he an authoritarian manager?

He wasn’t a manager at all. He never held meetings, he never did observations and he didn’t develop his staff with workshops. He was just this angry guy who tried to get a salary for doing no work. It is hardly a surprise that the school started performing badly. We had no In-House classes, for example, because he was too lazy to hold meetings with potential clients. I recall one time he sent us out to try and win a contract for him! He didn’t want to work on Fridays so he stayed at home and sent me and M*** to meet the school principal in his place!

Did you get the contract?

No. Funny that. Can you imagine sending your teachers to try and get corporate contracts for you with no guidance or supervision? He even got the time wrong and we sat around in the garden waiting for the principal to come back. It was a farce.

How else did he contribute to the school’s failure?

He was rude, arrogant and aggressive. I know that more than half the teachers who worked there between 2006 and 2008 quit before the end of their contract. There were at least six who broke their contract. Pauwsan the school owner told me that when contacted them in 2009, they all said B**** was a bad manager and he was the main reason they left. He thought that it was okay to yell at and humiliate teachers. He was completely unsuitable to the role. Teachers came and went on a regular basis, and this created a bad impression with students, who prefer stability.

Was there anything else?

There was racism. B**** had worked at TBI Kuningan and the Indonesian staff had thought he was a racist who treated locals very badly. He was constantly making comments about how stupid and incompetent Indonesians are. There had been loads of complaints. A lot of people were sick of him at Kuningan so they got rid of him by giving him a promotion! They made him manager of Kelapa Gading, where he was directly supervising five or six Indonesians. Predictably enough, he spent a lot of time yelling at Indonesians and making comments about how dumb Indonesians are, which the locals understandably resented.

Didn’t he have an Indonesian wife?

Actually, he was onto his second. I guess he isn’t the first expat male to mouth off about how stupid locals are while taking one as a wife.

Why would Head Office have subjected Indonesians to an expat boss with a reputation for racist taunts?

Add it to the list of terrible decisions these people have made. You’d have to ask Mariam and Ashley.

This all happened a long time ago now. What’s the point in discussing it? Why is it still relevant?

Many of  the same people who were influential then, especially Reza, Mariam and Ashley, are still in charge now. Many people in the know think that period we are talking about- 2006 to 2008- is when TBI really started to go wrong. It is the period when Mariam was gaining control of TBI and bringing in her band of corrupt cronies. The people who knowingly inflicted B**** on Kelapa Gading are the same people who have refused to bring Binsar and Luke to account for their immoral deeds. The period I’ve told you about is the early days of Mariam’s infamous Reign of Error.

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