The Black Swan (Part 3): Mariam Is The True Black Swan

As we made clear in Parts 1 and 2, TBI (The British Institute) has long blamed its recruitment woes on the Education Ministry regulation that English teachers in Indonesia need to have a degree in English or Applied Linguistics or a Masters of TESOL. They have long portrayed themselves as the victims of unfair and senseless rules which have ‘forced’ them into hiring teachers on business visas (VKUs). In their telling of the story, it is fate which turned them into law-breakers and liars. The introduction of the Education Ministry regulations were a black swan event– something momentous and totally unexpected which changed everything.

From Black Swans to Grey Areas

While the regulations were surprising in 2011, this is now 2015, so TBI using them as an excuse today is beyond pathetic. They have had 4 years to adapt and evolve. Yes, yes, we know that they deny that there is anything illegal happening at their schools, but teachers keep saying otherwise. They started advertising online for teachers again in April 2015 and a teacher came on the forum on Dave’s and revealed that Luke’s closest crony, Scott Martin, had lied to him that Indonesian law is a grey area in terms of teacher recruitment. Actually, Indonesian law is completely straightforward in this area: You emphatically cannot work as a teacher on a VKU visa. End of story.

This leads us to realize that the biggest black swan event to have affected TBI is not the English regulations at all. It is quite simply the fact that it was taken over by Mariam and Luke Preece, who systematically destroyed all of its values and reputation by rigging interview panels, planting moles and spies in schools, abusing complaints processes to get rid of rivals and generally behaving in an unprofessional and unethical manner.

Mariam Sullied TBI and Decimated Its Market Share

Let’s what what Nassim Taleb mentioned as the three main criteria for a ‘black swan event’:

  1. The event is a surprise (to the observer).
  2. The event has a major effect.
  3. After the first recorded instance of the event, it is rationalized by hindsight.

If you went back to 2006-2007, TBI had a reputation as one of the best language academy in Jakarta and Bandung. It didn’t even employ Indonesian teachers at Kuningan: it had a 100% Native Speaker staff. Its teachers spoke so highly of it that TBI didn’t have to pay for online job ads and actually refused to recruit people from overseas. If you weren’t in Indonesia, you couldn’t apply to work there.

If you had said to people then that TBI would be taken over by Mariam and her Aussie crony Luke Preece and that they would drive 2 out of 3 CELTA trainers out of the company, as well as every last expat manager except Luke and his best friend Scott, no one would have believed it. If you had said that they wouldn’t even get KITASes for most of their teachers, lying to them instead that ¬†teachers can work on VKU visas, you would have been viewed as crazy. Furthermore, if you had said that they would not manage to open a single new school in Jakarta or Bandung from 2008-2015, even as their competitors went from strength to strength, people would have been very surprised. Yet since 2007 their market share has been decimated by the arrival of Wall Street as well as legions of local rivals.

And so it becomes crystal clear. The catastrophe which befell this once-respected company was not new government regulations- a canny operator could have dealt with that shock. The real black swan event was that a delusional narcissist called Mariam took over the company and allowed her crony Luke to start unfairly dismissing everyone who wouldn’t toady to his bloated ego. After such a promising start, TBI became a pathological liar and sold its soul. Instead of having core values, it transformed into a vague, murky, nondescript ”grey area”, which no longer appears to stand for anything at all.

Rationalized by Hindsight

How about the hindsight criteria though? Did people later claim it was totally predictable that TBI would become a rogue school that people snicker about as a serial law-breaker? Do people now claim that it is not surprisingly that TBI would tolerate the likes of Binsar, a school manager accused of not paying salaries, watching porno inside TBI Bekasi and sexual harassing students and staff? Actually, they do. One of the first five comments we ever received on this blog went as follows: “The TBI Mafia? You guys are so naive. What is the whole of Indonesia but a bunch of islands controlled by a series of corrupt Mafias?” In other words, we should have known all along that TBI was no different from the routine parade of graft suspects getting dragged in front of the KPK (anti-corruption commission). Rationalized by hindsight indeed.

TBI's legal advice- immigration law is a ''grey area

TBI’s legal advice- immigration law is a ‘grey area’

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