The screenshot above is taken from the TBI website. It has the bland, same-old-same-old look that one associates with everything they do: a splash of maroon, a few stale boasts about former glories and, last of all, a string of dull bullet points. You’ve seen the same tired format every time they’ve produced anything since 2006. But if you take a closer look, you will get a good insight into the strange, and certainly not ethical, company culture. Bizarrely enough, if you are 36 you are too old to be considered by this dodgy school-chain. Unlike most reputable businesses on the planet, they prefer their managers young and inexperienced. The canny reader will certainly be justified in asking why. The answer for TBI’s blatant age discrimination is almost as concerning as the fact that they openly engage in it.
TBI: Experienced Managers Not Welcome
Age discrimination may not be illegal in Indonesia, and I am sure TBI would be able to find many other companies that engage in it, but our point is not that their age discrimination is illegal; we merely want to highlight that this is a choice they have made of their own free will. TBI is quite happy to advertise to the world that Indonesians in their late 30s, 40s or 50s are not welcome to apply for management positions in this company. Clearly, this is an odd situation. In 2014 the retirement age in Indonesia increased to 58 years of age and further increases are slated. If Indonesians don’t have to retire until they are 58 years old, why is TBI disqualifying managers above 35 years of age? This wasn’t the case at any of the well-respected corporations we taught Business classes at in Indonesia. Why is TBI uniquely hostile to older, more experienced managers? After all, in the corporate world management experience is usually viewed as an asset, not a liability.
Inexperienced Managers Preferred
Look up the word inexperienced in the thesaurus and you will find an interesting list of synonyms. The first ten to appear are indicative: immature, naive, undisciplined, unschooled, unsophisticated, untried, young, amateur, callow and green. That sounds exactly like the list of failed managers who have traipsed through TBI schools in recent years. Remeber Nunu? He came into work a couple of hours per day and explained, “I’m basically a lazy person,” to his incredulous staff. Then there was Anita, a former secretary with very basic English, who they promoted to lead a school. Predictably, she too failed and has now been replaced by Tersi Valentina, another young woman. Yet while it is clear that TBI truly has made a habit of hiring greenhorns, that doesn’t explain why they are doing it.
The obvious answer, I suppose, is cheapness. Obviously, experienced managers are going to ask for more money, and greenhorns are going to ask for less. It seems a safe bet that the policy of only recruiting under 35s as managers is motivated largely by penny-pinching. You would presume that if cheapness was the real reason for wanting inexperienced managers then a focus on cost-cutting would show up elsewhere too, and this is certainly the case. The company has ignored customer complaints about everything from slow, old computers to a lack of toilet facilities at TBI Dago for years. There have also been online reports from other sources that TBI Bandung are constantly losing expat teachers to Penabur, a chain of Catholic schools, because they still offer a miserably low salary of Rp 11-12 juta per month.
Cheapness is indeed a prevalent vice at TBI, and a partial explanation why they don’t accept older, more experienced managers. But it is only part of the picture. Their blatant age discrimination is also explained by their unhealthy need to bully and intimidate managers into submission. This is a company which is intolerant not only of dissent, but even different opinions. If cheapness was the only issue, they could certainly find under-qualified, 40-something Indonesians who would work for a song. That suggests that there is something more to it than just a desire to pay low wages. What we can say for a fact is that the extra factor is subservience/compliance.
Seeking Subservient Managers
At first blush these restrictions on managers look nuts. What sort of company says that managers can only be Indonesians aged 25-35? After all, to have a degree and 3-4 years supervisory experience, you would probably have to be in your late 20s at least. That leaves a bizarrely short age window of just 7 years! Once you start to think about it, these regulations look downright wacky. But if you understand that they are a proxy for something else, things start to make sense. What TBI is really saying is that they want weak, incompetent, unassertive people who will follow orders unquestioningly. They think young locals with a bare minimum of supervisory experience won’t dare to challenge the authority of Mariam and Luke, the dishonest duo who have hijacked TBI.
This view is the right view. TBI has had a bad time with former managers in the past. One of them persuaded TBI’s joint-venture partner to throw them out of their own school in Malang in 2012, based on TBI’s history of lies and deception. Similarly, a former Academic Team Leader at TBI Bekasi forwarded documents proving TBI was under-reporting student numbers and cheating on tax. The authors of this blog have exposed cases of embezzlement, sexual assault and visa rackets. Another former manager complained to HR that Luke Preece was a liar and con-man who had rigged appointments in favor of his cronies. Basically anyone with any moral integrity had been outraged by how they ran the company and had made waves.
With so many skeletons in the closet, TBI has decided not to take any chances with outspoken managers. Anyone who shows the least sign of assertiveness or moral courage is not even considered. The existing managers have mostly “proven” themselves by lying or spying for Luke or agreeing to smear his “enemies”. Only people who are easily manipulated and compliant are even considered for management roles now. There is actually a gender aspect to this too. There are no Indonesian male managers in group schools and hasn’t been since 2012. Luke boldly claimed that Indonesian men are all lazy or stupid in the past, but surely what he really meant was that they had stood up to him and Mariam too often (think of the TBI Malang fiasco, in which TBI was booted out of its own school and didn’t re-open at a new premises for 8 months.)
The real reason they don’t want experienced managers is because they might be smart enough to see through TBI lies, and could even cause further PR disasters. The ideal school manager these days is someone who won’t object to visa or tax scams and who won’t even raise any eyebrow when Binsar extorts money from teachers in Bekasi. In short, they want naive, callow people who will believe their lies or at least be too unsure of themselves to ask difficult questions. Based on Luke Prece’s own words, this profile is best met by inexperienced, young Indonesian women in their 20s. That explains why all 4 school managers at TBI Jakarta are women and the last 2 to be removed, Anita and Nida, were too. This bizarre policy makes sense when you realize TBI has broken many laws and just wants to fly under the radar. Inexperienced managers are judged the least threat to their cozy mafia.