For the Record with Amy Ronneberg, CEO, Be The Match

April 7  

Amy Ronneberg is the CEO of the National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP)/Be The Match®. She leads an organization of more than 1,500 professionals and 3,000 volunteers, fighting so all people, irrespective of background, get the cell therapy they need.

Amy joined the NMDP/Be The Match in July 2013 as the chief financial officer. She was responsible for planning, implementing and directing NMDP/Be The Match finances, facilities and real estate management, reporting and tax management. In that role, Amy partnered with and advised NMDP/Be The Match executives and board of directors in developing and implementing an operating and financial business plan to meet the changing health care environment.

Give us NMDP/Be The Match’s elevator pitch.

We save lives through cellular therapy. We recruit altruistic donors throughout the country and type their human leukocyte antigen (HLA). HLA is what we use to match donors with patients who have blood cancers and blood disorders and need a blood stem cell transplant. Our matching algorithm takes research into account to provide matches that can lead to the best possible outcomes for patients.

Once a donor is matched, we facilitate all aspects of their blood stem cell collection—from ensuring the donor is healthy enough to donate to scheduling their collection. Then one of our volunteer couriers transports the donor cells to wherever the patient is in the world.

But it doesn’t end there. We collect information on patients after transplant and use our extensive outcomes database to perform research to continue to advance progress for patients. We also use the capabilities we’ve developed over the last 35+ years to support the development of new cell and gene therapies to advance science and help even more patients.

What is one thing the Medical Alley community might be unaware of about NMDP/Be The Match that you think would be good to know?

Every search through the NMDP/Be The Match provides patients with access to more than 41 million potential donors in the world. Yet, there are still not enough donors to help every patient who needs a life-saving transplant. If you are a White patient, you have a 79% chance of finding a matched, available donor, and if you are an African American patient your chances are only 29%.

That is simply unacceptable. Our vision is to ensure that EVERY patient receives their life-saving transplant regardless of their background.

How have the last few years changed at NMDP/Be The Match for the long term? 

On March 13, 2020, the world changed overnight and created the biggest challenges our organization have ever faced. In an instant, thousands of flights were canceled, apheresis centers shut down and borders closed.

We had hundreds of patients around the world who needed their life-saving cells, but our couriers couldn’t get into the country. And most of our couriers were in the highest risk category for COVID-19.

The organization threw away any silos or job descriptions and stepped up to ensure products made it to the patient. Many of our employees became couriers putting their own lives at risk to fly in and out of high-risk cities. We procured private jets to move products. We worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to get a special waiver for non-U.S. couriers from other countries to deliver blood stem cells to waiting patients in the U.S.

It was the most amazing teamwork I’ve ever witnessed. This can-do spirit has remained as the essence of our organization resulting in record breaking years every year since the pandemic started.

We have also implemented a fully hybrid model where employees can work wherever they work best. This has significantly increased our employee base throughout the country, which allows our employees to better represent the patients we serve.

What are the big milestones to come in the next few years for NMDP/Be The Match?

We will eliminate the gap that exists today so EVERY patient will receive their life-saving cells. We will move the 79% and 29% likelihoods to 100%. We will continue to accelerate progress through research so not only will every patient receive their transplant, but every patient will thrive post-transplant with the best possible outcomes.

What does leadership look like to you?

Leadership is about surrounding yourself with the best talent and leaders. It is about ensuring the organization has a vision, and that employees know how to achieve it and how their role impacts the vision.

It is about aligning everyone to ensure we are helping all patients in need. Most important, a true leader is authentic, vulnerable and a servant to the organization.

What is the best advice you have received in your career? What is the worst?

The best career advice I have ever received is to surround yourself with incredible talent. Being a leader is not about being the best or smartest. It is about bringing together the right team to achieve greatness.

The worst advice I have ever received was from a leader who didn’t value one’s authentic self. He said that I would never be an executive because I didn’t wear enough makeup or do enough with my hair. It was a rude reminder that not everyone appreciates the importance of being one’s self and the importance of finding an organization that wants you to bring your authentic self to work!

What have been the most rewarding moments in your career?

That is easy! During the pandemic when the entire organization came together and put aside their job description and their roles and focused on whatever it took to get hundreds of products to patients.

One of my favorite stories was when blood stem cells were being collected in Poland for a patient in the U.S. As the cells were being collected, the Polish borders closed. The courier was rerouted to Germany where we were able to negotiate a meeting at the Germany-Poland border. The cells were handed over the border to the courier and they flew the product back to the patient in the U.S. just in time!

What is one personal goal for the upcoming year?

To enjoy each and every day. Sounds simple enough but it means that I will prioritize differently and say “no” to some things. I will prioritize self-care as I logically know it will make me a better mother, wife, friend and leader.

How do you relax/decompress?

I have never been good at “traditional” relaxing so for me the best way to decompress is to go for a run. It always has, and hopefully always will, allow me to decompress and think through the areas in my life that are creating the most friction.

What do you enjoy most about the Medical Alley community?

I enjoy being able to connect with such a broad range of leaders from so many different industries in health care. I have made so many connections that have allowed me to tap into a leader’s thoughts around key topics. The past few years have had so many challenges without a playbook, so it has been helpful to have others to connect with who are also navigating through these challenges.

Success message!
Warning message!
Error message!