How TBI Lost the Fight for Jakarta

The first thing to establish here is that TBI did lose the fight for Jakarta. Self-evident as it has been to us for a long time, you certainly won’t hear the authorities at TBI admitting it. Even as competitors have stolen massive chunks of market share from them, the TBI ostriches have gone on sticking their heads ever deeper in the sand. “Crisis? What crisis?” has been the mantra, as their better-funded and much more professional competitors have gone from strength to strength, decimating the hapless British Institute. So let’s offer an overview of their sorry demise.


2006 might only be 8 years ago, but it seems an eternity in terms of how language schools have evolved in Jakarta. Back then there was no Wall Street and internet-based learning would have sounded rather futuristic; there was none of it going on in Big Durian. There wasn’t even a TBI Kuningan then. Their main centre in the capital was TBI Setiabudi, with 800 students. All of the teachers were Native Speakers and the school had a reputation as a happy place, a place that teachers loved to work. The Director wasn’t Mariam- a very pleasing thought- and the school manager was someone by the surname of Berkowitz. He was soon to be replaced by the spider-like Ashley Platts who alleged that his predecessor was a “drug user”, beginning the nasty series of power plays and internal politics which eventually did so much damage to the company. But for the meantime the school was busy and everyone was happy.


In 2006, TBI Jakarta already had around 1200- 1300 students. The very popular Setiabudi had 800, Sudirman had 200 and there were up to 300 at TBI Kelapa Gading. In late 2010 when Ibu Wati was finally pushed out, there were only 470 at TBI Kuningan (due to the failure of Platts and his 2 successors- both “removed”), around 200 at Sudirman and 400 at Fatmawati, due to an advertising blitz. Add in Kelapa Gading, then with 220 students, and you have a figure of 1200-1300. Half a decade later, and the language chain hadn’t grown at all!  This was a disaster, of course, but the TBI ostriches were having none of it. The fact that they were anything less than the brightest stars in the firmament was treason to mention.


In 2006, there was no Wall Street in the capital. Indeed, they didn’t arrive until 2008, a mere 6 years ago. However, by 2011 they already had 4 properties in the city. Yet the important thing to note here is that each school had upwards of 1400 students. So, in essence, each Wall Street school had more students than all 4 TBI schools combined! By the time they had 6 schools (by the end of 2012), they had over 8000 students, which was more than 6 times the maximum number of students TBI had ever had. But it gets worse…


Wall Street requires students to buy a membership, which is usually at least 1 year in duration and could be even longer. Therefore, it is more like a gym than a typical school in the way it bills customers. The cost of membership was between 2 to 3 times what a typical TBI student would pay, so Wall Street was not just 6 times bigger in terms of student numbers. When you were thinking in terms of revenue, they were at least 12 times the size of TBI. Basically, within years that had dwarfed TBI, demolishing their market share in the most dramatic fashion imaginable.


The people at TBI love to compare themselves to WS and other market leaders, but this is hubristic nonsense. They have simply not realized the scale of what has happened. There has been a massive boom, with schools popping up on every other street corner, but they haven’t been to able to increase their student numbers at all. Their cashed-up and professional competitor has enrolled 8000 students in a much more expensive product, reducing TBI to a “budget” option and one of many minor players in the field. Nor is WS the only company moving upmarket either. Taman Anggrek, one of the city’s most upmarket malls, is about to see another flash new school open.


But even today the “leaders” are in full-on denial mode. Their various aliases on online forums assure people that everything is fine, and it is only a few disgruntled former employees- who are basically insane- who are the problem. But a company which has only 15% as many students as Wall Street and less than 10% as much revenue is going nowhere fast. As much as it parrots the mantra that it is a “premium” option, the customers have decided otherwise and taken their big bucks elsewhere. While the city is plastered with the high-profile billboards of their competitors, they continue to give out a few, cheap flyers and upload a few happy snaps of kids with the rat-faced,TBI mascot. They are now in the same league as Direct English or even Rumah Bahasa. But the ostriches won’t admit it. And that’s part of why they are in such trouble.

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