If you want to understand TBI’s business well, the most fundamental thing to grasp is that it is controlled by a few, greedy rent-seekers who take as much out of the business as they can, and re-invest as little as possible. This is the reason it has been rapidly losing market share since around 2009. It is a company on a steep downward trajectory because it is controlled by people who see it as a “cash cow” and have no vision for its future. The current managers are all about taking money out of TBI- milking the “cash cow”- rather than nurturing the business. This is the reason it has not sold a single new franchise school since Luke Preece took over in 2010. All investment in the future has stopped, and they are now slowly running the business into the ground. Perhaps the most appropriate symbol of this whole process has been the sorry story of the TBI Kuningan computer room. It is a case study in greediness and short-term thinking.
The Computers Are Old and Slow, Mister!
There has been no more common complaint at TBI Kuningan over the years than some version of, “Why are the computers so old and slow?” A related complaint was always that, “The internet is too slow.” Month after month, year after year, TBI Kuningan students wrote to complain that the computers were old, useless, and unreliable. Year after year, TBI authorities decided to ignore the complaints about the computers, the speakers and the Internet. To give you some idea of how old these computers were, they had been moved from TBI Setiabudi, the predecessor of TBI Kuningan. They were still using Windows 98 in 2011, to give you some idea of how out-of-date TBI is. According to recent reports, they are still using those old clunkers. TBI’s competitors might have moved to flat-screens years ago, but not TBI, they are sticking with ancient hardware.
Dressing Up Mutton as Lamb
Such are the budgetary constraints that TBI managers work under that the conscientious ones were forced to get very inventive to try and improve things. At TBI Kuningan, Head Office knocked back requests for money for new computers time and again. After a while the Finance Manager started telling it like it is and said, “Ning Anhar is using all the money for her daughter’s school. There’s no money for anything except her Design School.” Cronyism. Nepotism. Siphoning off money for yourself. The true TBI way. At Kuningan the desperate manager resorted to buying new cases for the computers, one at a time, out of petty cash, thereby circumventing the automatic “No” which is Head Office’s only answer to requests for money. The same approach was later used to get new speakers. Head Office so ties the hands of managers that they are forced to jump through hoops to get even a modicum of money to serve customers.
Therefore, if you want a fitting symbol for TBI, think of an old computer running on Windows 98, but fitted with a new case to try and fool customers that it is new. This is the best that TBI can do. Short-sighted, holding their customers in thinly veiled contempt, they blunder from year to year selling the same tired product to a decreasing band of the faithful. It has been a sad case study in the folly of greed.