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Bill Gammell was born in Edinburgh, and was the son of an investment banker, who was invited at an early age to join Edinbugh's Ivory & Sime (which was started in the late 1800s with the formation of the British Assets Trust.) Gammell attended Edinburgh's exclusive Fettes College where he was friends and debating partners with future British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The two have remained close friends. After Fettes, Gammell attended the University of Stirling where he obtained a BA in Economics and Accountancy.
Gammell played rugby union at county level and for the Scottish national team. A tall winger, he earned five international caps, and played in the game against Japan in 1977 in Tokyo when he scored four tries in the Scots' 74-9 victory.
Gammell scored two tries on his debut for Scotland, against Ireland at Murrayfield in 1977.
After his rugby career was ended by injury, Gammell followed his father into business. Using venture capital, he founded Cairn Energy in Edinburgh. The company invested in several unsuccessful oilfields in the US before making a modest strike in the Pennsylvania oilfield. Gammell was appointed Cairn's Chief Executive on its initial listing in 1989. In the mid 1990s he led the company in a radical reallocation of its assets, moving out of US and North Sea oil and gas concerns and into neglected fields in South Asia. The company's fortunes soared in 2004, when a field it had bought in 2001 (for $7.5 million) from Shell in the Indian province of Rajasthan was found to contain close to 1.1 billion barrels of oil, catapulting it into the FTSE 100.
Gammell was paid an annual salary of £552,000 for his role as chief executive at Cairn Energy. On 1 July 2011 Gammell assumed the role of non-executive chairman.
Gammell's father invested in US oil company Bush-Overbey, owned by future US President George H. W. Bush. The two families became friends, with George W. Bush spending the summer at the Gammell's farm in Scotland. George W. attended Bill Gammell's wedding in Glasgow in 1983. The two have remained close friends. When George W. Bush assumed the Presidency, both he and Blair reportedly called their mutual friend Gammell to ask his opinion of the other.
Bill Gammell a director of the Scottish Institute of Sport and Artemis AiM VCT plc., and in 2004 he was awarded UK Entrepreneur of the Year. In the 2006 honours list, Gammell was made a Knight Bachelor "for services to Industry in Scotland", and in 2017 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
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- "RSE Welcomes 60 New Fellows" (Press release). Royal Society of Edinburgh. 15 February 2017. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
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