John Langler may have been ‘Tiny’ by name – but he certainly wasn’t by stature, business or reputation.
For the 6ft 7 tall oil tycoon got started in business by gifting secretaries doughnuts and offering weekly free champagne and fish and chips to everyone at the Earl’s Court Hotel at the peak of the oil boom.
The man who loved the company of women and refused to ever apologise, would go on to establish a global company, become honorary consul to Khazakhstan and Depute Lord Lieutenant of Aberdeen.
He’d also fly to New York to persuade Trump to come to Menie.
“If he thought it was best for Aberdeen then Tiny would fight for it. I’ve never known a salesman like him,” said Graham Birnie, his business partner.
Music-mad mod to oil magnate
John Langler was born in Liverpool on October 14, 1949.
His father was a master butcher on cruise liners and his mother was a hairdresser.
The statuesque teen attended Sir John Deane’s Grammar in Cheshire but his real passion was music.
A mod – ‘definitely not a rocker’ – he left school for life as a roadie. Later becoming a DJ, he was resident at Northwich memorial Hall where the Beatles and the Who played.
A passion for music would also lead to love of a different kind.
In 1970 he married Marolyn – always known as Mal – who worked in White and Swales record shop, Knutsford.
They had their daughter Janine in 1971 – the same year he joined Cheshire Constabulary.
Standing at an impressive 7ft 2 with his police hat on, ‘Tiny’ was the tallest in the force.
However, his days pounding the streets of North-west England came to an end in 1974.
A job on Cheshire’s Pickmere land rig with Schlumberger opened the door for a new career in oil.
Learning on the job he worked three months on, one month off, in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Granite City bound
John brought his family to Aberdeen in 1979. He worked for several well services companies after Schlumberger including Christiansen and BJ Hughes. But by the mid 80s he set up his own well services business.
The oil slump in 1986 meant this eventually failed.
Tiny was undeterred, however, and set up four new companies in 1989 and from these his career in the Aberdeen Oil industry truly began.
By the end of his life he held 34 company directorships and had almost as many cars.
Never one to settle in a house, in one 18 year period he had 21 house moves.
While the word sorry never left his lips, his brilliant brain and research skills would propel him to business success for the next 30 years.
Graham Birnie said: “Tiny hated paperwork but was a great salesman: great in meetings. By his own admission he was rubbish at running the administrative side of things. Which is why we complimented each other so much- like the Little and Large of the oil business.”
When the pair first met Graham was working for Shell.
“I had an issue we needed to resolve and he came back with the solution.
“He would charm his way passed the front desks of every oil company with a bag of doughuts for the receptionists, and then another bag for the engineers. He’d ask them: ‘How was your day?’ – and from their answers would get an insight into what the real issues in the business were.
“Issues meant problems to be solved. Problems to be solved meant business opportunities.”
When cracks appeared on the Forth Road Bridge, Tiny researched and found a specific resin that could mend it until it could be resurfaced.
“Never been tried in the UK – and used for something else entirely in America – it did the trick,” said Graham.
“It was the same when boats were getting damaged on piles at Rosyth naval base. He found a gigantic version of what was essentially a slip cover for a boiler. Never been done before. He was ingenious.”
By 1992 Langler was running a job-by-job company using these innovation and research skills to solve problems for other businesses.
Graham came on board for a 24% share of the company and their partnership equated to clearer direction and exponential growth.
Tiny eventually achieved his lifelong ambition of owning a global oil services company with this business, Walker Technical Resources.
A new standard
By 2009 with offices in Norway, Qatar, America and Egypt they employed 300 people. And the composite pipework solution the pair pioneered became widely used everywhere without a regulatory standard.
An influx of less reputable companies joined the market hoping for a share in the profitable sector so Langler came up with a plan to future proof the business he had worked so hard on.
Alongside Professor Simon Frost of Newcastle University, and with American standards and regulators, they paid for a benchmark standard to be developed, that all companies would need to adhere to.
This gave the oil companies assurance of quality and helped whittle down the competition.
Walker Technical Resources won the most promising small company award at the 2006 Offshore Achievements Awards.
However, a sense of ‘making it’ triggered a new wave of boredom in Tiny.
This would be short lived as his friendship with Lord Peter Fraser opened an unexpected door for Langler.
Fraser, who ran the Kazakh Society in London invited John to join. When the Russians pulled out of Kazakhstan he knew there were oil reserves there but with a lot of old Russian equipment.
He was appointed honorary consul to Kazhakstan, running the consulate out of his Silver Street office.
Known to help and support Kazhakstan students to come to the UK and upskill in the oil trade, he would also look after them while they were here.
In Kazakhstan he regularly met the oil minister but became great friends with the son of the Kazakhstan Security Minister.
“He was ex-KGB, reportedly, and Tiny continued this friendship until he died.”
Another friend of Langler’s was then Provost, John Reynolds.
Attending various trade missions together he and Reynolds’ bonded over a mutual belief in the strength and expertise contained within Aberdeen.
Graham Birnie added: “Nobody was more passionate about Aberdeen than Tiny and so when the Depute Lieutenant opportunity came up he jumped at.”
It was with Reynolds that he flew to New York for a meeting in Trump Towers with Donald Trump.
“There is no question that without Tiny being in that room the Trump golf course and plans to be in Aberdeen wouldn’t have happened. Nobody was more passionate about Aberdeen than Tiny. Trump was on the fence. He convinced him to come. A move that wasn’t uncontroversial at the time.”
In 1995 Langler and wife, Mal, separated.
A man who loved the company of women, he went on to raise son Matthew from another relationship.
His eclectic taste for life in general extended to business interests. He purchased everything from a yoghurt franchise to a wedding car business, which provided him with his beloved Rolls Royce.
Despite millions in the bank and a fleet of cars that included BMWs, Mercedes, a Porsche and Bentleys he drove one of three Micras to work each day and lived in a terraced house in Nigg Way, near Kincorth.
A philanthropist and believer in the next generation of young people in Aberdeen, he supported charity and had it written into his business contracts that apprenticeships must be offered to local youngsters.
His generosity also extended to Graham who was the recipient of a seven-course banquet at the old AECC for his 60th birthday.
After an often gruelling 18 month illness Tiny passed away aged 72 at home.
His funeral takes place on Tuesday, April 26 in Aberdeen’s East Chapel.
My Way, For All The Girls I Loved Before and Big Spender are to be played at his service.
In one final tribute to his ‘business partner and best friend’ Graham said he’d be missed.
“What started as business colleagues, then business partners became best friends.
“I was always cleaning up behind him but together we consolidated the best of what we could both do and it made us very, very successful.
“He did a lot for Aberdeen, and Aberdeen was good to him so he wanted to pay it back.
“I will miss him. And everything he brought to my life.
“From who else could I be encouraged to go boar hunting and drinking vodka through antlers in Kazakhstan, or be taught me how to dine with Shaikhs?”