TBI’s Destructive Turf Wars (Updated) (Part 3 of 4)

TBI is a company which has now had a lost half-decade or more. Between 2006 and 2010 a large number of new franchise schools opened under the guidance of Retty Setiawan, but in 2010 she was forced out of the company by Luke Preece, an Australian con-man who claims to have a degree in Geology but is in fact a high-school graduate only, and Mariam Katrikatresni, a narcissitic nightmare who forced scores of people to quit during her decade-long ‘Reign of Error’. After Luke and Mariam gained control over TBI in 2010, the company went into a rapid period of deterioration.

By 2012 complete stagnation had set in and the chain still has no more schools than it did five years ago. One reason for its abysmal performance has been its endless turf wars, especially between Ning Anhar and Mariam Kartikatresni, which culminated in the ousting of Ibu Mariam in 2015. As of late 2015, the 83-year old Ibu Ning had emerged victorious in her turf war over Mariam but it was a hollow victory, with the ailing company having much fewer customers than it did in the past.

In this series of posts we have argued that TBI’s true Achilles Heel is its nature as a rent-seeking enterprise. Rather than investing in growth and trying to take on competitors, it has engaged in endless internal politicking, the ultimate goal of which has always been to gain control of the ‘turf’ from which rents can be extracted. The people who are in power at USG, the shady yayasan (charity) which controls TBI, can claim huge ‘management fees’ worth hundreds of millions of rupiah without ever stepping foot inside at TBI school. This juicy prize has allured a number of venal and dishonest characters who have fought viciously over the spoils. If you want an explanation for the skulduggery which has long characterized TBI, you only need to follow the money trail to Head Office. Those in power there have long treated TBI as their personal piggy-bank, with the vast majority of the money being diverted away from the schools, which are productive assets, to the vanity projects and personal bank accounts of Ning, Reza, Mariam and the other head honchos. This is the real reason why TBI turf wars have always been so nasty.

TURF WARS- WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS

While no one openly admits to conducting turf wars rather than doing their real jobs, Annette Simmons, head of the Greensboro, North Carolina-based Group Process Consulting, has shed some light into this dark corner of human organizational behavior. Her book Territorial Games: Understanding and Ending Turf Wars at Work is regarded as the classic study of this workplace phenomenon. What I learned by reading this book was that TBI (The British Institute) was riddled with all the negative practices she described. In fact, it almost every case what goes on at TBI has been worse than the case studies she offered!

I do not intend to go through all the practices she describes one by one. What I will do is to offer three examples of how turf wars have manifested themselves at TBI in the past. This should help give readers an insight into why this company has routinely under-performed for so long.

Information Manipulation

TBI has long been a company based on secrets and lies. The withholding or misrepresentation of information with devious intent has almost become an art-form in the hands of certain unscrupulous operators at TBI. Allow me to give you some examples of how this has been used in TBI turf wars.

One horrendous example was when Mariam Kartikatresni used misleading information to try and extort over Rp 300 million out of the franchise owners. She told them that she had been doing advertising of the TBI brand and demanded Rp 25 million from each franchise owner to cover advertising expenses. The information she withheld from the franchise owners was that the cinema advertising  she had obtained was only shown during a very cheap local horror movie at low-end cinemas. Furthermore, she had not paid a cent for this advertising, which was obtained by way of barter for TBI courses. Therefore, she was requesting over $30,000 for advertising costs she had never incurred. She tried to gain control over the advertising budgets of franchise schools through the use of misleading information.

Discrediting Rivals

This one was the absolute bread-and-butter of Luke Preece in his attempts to rise to power at TBI. One of the most infamous cases was when he staged mud-raking secret meetings to gain ‘dirt’ on Monica, the then Academic Manager, while she was seven months pregnant. The  discrediting information raked up at these meetings were matters such as the fact that she was smoking while pregnant and that she had dropped out of the CELTA Young Learners extension because it was too difficult. Luke Preece then spread this information all over the company, telling people how ‘disgusting’ Monica was because she endangered her baby.

He also told people that a middle-aged woman in the company was menopausal, which was why she was behaving so erratically by insisting he had rigged an appointment in favour of one of his cronies. Slander and defamation were instrumental in all of the many TBI turf wars over the years.

Strategic Noncompliance

It was well-known that people in USG-TBI were either ‘anak Mariam’ or ‘anak Ning’. In other words, both women had stuffed the company full of their cronies who could expect to take their orders from one or the other. If either Ning or Mariam succeeded in getting one of their clique into a key position (people in USG even used the word boneka or puppet to describe these people), then that was regarded as a victory for one of the women in the ongoing turf wars. Ultimately, Ning ousted Mariam and claimed the whole field as her own. (More on this in Part 4).

However, one part of these turf wars was that there was strategic noncompliance on the part of some of the puppets. For example, Ning ordered Luke Preece to make sure that Ibu Wati, a crony of Ning’s, was a success as a school manager. She ordered him to make every effort to ensure she succeeded. But in truth, Luke was more of an accomplice of Mariam’s than he ever was of Ning’s, so he actually gossiped about how bad Wati was to everyone in the company and even undermined her by having his friends run amok and make endless petty disputes inside the school. In other words, Luke and Mariam practised strategic noncompliance in the matter of helping Ning’s cronies. This helped him to make sure that Ning did not extend her turf into TBI Kuningan permanently in 2011.

 

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