Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Bayer’s Nelson Ambrogio Is Helping To Change Our World

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Take risks! In order to grow, it’s important to take risks. Stretch yourself and struggle. Become friends with struggle. I have learned to see struggle as a growth opportunity.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nelson Ambrogio

Nelson is a highly respected and dynamic global business leader who is dedicated to delivering innovative health care solutions to enhance people’s lives.

As the Head of the Bayer US Oncology franchise, Nelson is responsible for leading the US Sales and Marketing teams and overseeing a portfolio of six therapies across a range of indications. Oncology is one of Bayer’s global strategic pillars, playing a fundamental role in positioning Bayer as a science leader in key areas of innovation, while realizing sustainable growth. In his current role, Nelson is a member of the Bayer Pharmaceuticals Leadership Team in the US and in the Americas.

Prior to his appointment in Oncology, Nelson was Head of the Women’s Healthcare Business Unit in the US. A multi-national healthcare executive with broad experience transforming large, complex organizations, Nelson’s career spans more than 20 years with Bayer and Schering. Nelson has held a range of leadership positions around the world, including the US, Europe, Asia/Pacific and Latin America.

Nelson resides in New Jersey with his wife and four children.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

A combination of several things brought me to this career path. From early on in my childhood I was exposed to healthcare, medicine, patients and caregivers. My mother was a medical doctor. My father had a stroke when I was only six years old, which had a significant impact on the entire family. I lost my older brother four years ago to a rare cancer called cholangiocarcinoma, which inspired me even more to work in the oncology space. I think all of this had a profound impact on who I am today and on the choices I made in terms of who I wanted to be. I knew I wanted to be in the healthcare space and work on having an impact on patients and families.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I have had the privilege of working and living in seven different countries around the world in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific and Latin America. This has been a fascinating journey from both a professional and personal perspective. Our four children were born in four different countries: Mexico, Germany, Brazil and Portugal.

I recently had another particularly interesting experience as a result of both my personal and professional connection to cancer. I ran the Boston Marathon in memory of my brother Daniel, who was diagnosed with a rare cancer called cholangiocarcinoma four years ago and passed away shortly afterwards. I ran as a charity runner for the TargetCancer Foundation (TCF), an organization dedicated to improving the lives of rare cancer patients and backing critical scientific research. Bayer and the TargetCancer Foundation have a long-standing relationship and share the same goal of supporting cancer patients and caregivers, and I was thrilled to be selected to run for the charity team. I am humbled by the support I received from friends, family and Bayer colleagues from around the world, including Bayer’s matching of the donations I raised.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early in my career, when I was starting my journey as a Sales Representative, I once drove more than two hours to see an important customer. However, when I arrived at the practice, I realized that he was not working that day of the week. I took the opportunity to contact other members of the practice, but that experience certainly reinforced for me how important it is to have a good plan…and to start by getting the basics right!

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

At Bayer, we have a vision of ‘health for all, hunger for none,’ which is something that I personally find inspiring and which I know is also inspirational for Bayer employees around the world. That is what unites us. We are active across a variety of health and wellness topics — such as oncology, cardiovascular disease and nutrition — which makes us quite unique both as a company and in our contribution to society. As the General Manager of U.S. Oncology at Bayer, I work with my team to fulfill the company’s commitment to supporting patients through their cancer experience, with precision oncology being one of our focus areas.

We contribute through technology and innovation that we research and develop and make available for people around the world. Bayer also has a strong impact because of the engagement of its employees in different activities that have a societal impact. We have many colleagues around the world who are engaged in activities that they find interesting, inspiring and energizing, and that creates a strong impact in the communities in which we operate. These activities can range from refurbishing or painting schools to making donations through different charitable foundations to being charity runners like I chose to be at the beginning of this year when I decided to apply for a charity runner position on the Target Cancer Foundation Boston Marathon team.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I feel privileged in my position to have the opportunity to see some of the impact we are having through letters from patients. These are probably the most impactful moments and the ones that I feel the most thankful for, when we receive a letter from a caregiver expressing how one of our treatments had an impact not only on their loved one but also on the entire family. For example, just a few months ago a daughter of a patient wrote a very emotional letter to us as a company thanking us for helping them with access to one of our cancer treatments. These are unique and powerful moments for my colleagues and me.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Raising awareness, talking about cancer and more specifically rare cancers, is so important. Increasing education and awareness about diseases in general, but also about what to do when you are diagnosed with cancer, is crucial to empower patients and caregivers to know and understand their options.

It’s also critical to have a strong, multidisciplinary approach to address a very complex challenge. It requires a strong collaboration between multiple stakeholders, including industry, government and society so that we can really have a collective impact.

In addition, continuing to seek new and innovative approaches to cancer treatment, especially for rare cancers or those with limited treatment options, is crucial. Our precision medicine focus aims to address the specific driver of a tumor, while minimizing the impact on a patient’s quality of life.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leaders are those who have a followership; that’s how I would first describe it. From my perspective, as a leader it is necessary to provide clarity about the present and the future, a clear and compelling vision as well as the priorities to get there. It is also about caring for people. Something that I’ve learned in the journey of working with large teams in seven different countries over the past 20 years is that while there are differences between markets and how different countries operate, there is one thing that is universal: people want to work for people who care. People want to work for people who care about the business. People want to work for people who care about numbers. Above all, people really want to work for people who care about people, and that’s something that is very close to my heart.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Take risks! In order to grow, it’s important to take risks. Stretch yourself and struggle. Become friends with struggle. I have learned to see struggle as a growth opportunity.
  2. Have fun! We are so immersed in what we are doing and everything that we have to do every day that it may be overwhelming at times. I believe we are at our best when we are able to have fun. Even if we are going through some difficult times or in a difficult situation, there is always an opportunity to find the positive side of things and have some fun and be thankful.
  3. Celebrate! When you achieve something, celebrate it. I think being thankful is something that is very close to my heart as well. I’m very thankful for everything that I have been able to experience so far, for the family that I have today and for what we have been able to experience collectively. Being mindful of celebrating and being thankful for that is something I find especially important.
  4. Don’t take yourself too seriously! I remember a conversation I had with my 15-year-old daughter when I was first considering running the Boston Marathon. She is a very strong runner, a competitive runner in high school. I was sharing with her that I was not sure if I should do it because it’s a big commitment and a very long run, and I’m not a naturally talented runner. She encouraged me to do it. She told me that I would be able to do it but also to be mindful that all of the times, even the last runner to arrive, are published on a website! I think that was her way to motivate me, but at the same time it helped me see that I was taking myself too seriously.
  5. Enjoy what you do! I think we all spend so much of our lives working that it is really important to get some meaning and enjoyment from your work. I know I do.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We have made significant progress in healthcare over the past several decades, but there’s still so much that can be done, especially when it comes to supporting patients and caregivers. I feel already part of a movement in which multiple stakeholders align behind that same objective to support as many cancer patients and caregivers as we can — and invite anyone interested to think how they can also have an impact and join the movement!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I will use a relatively recent one that I am using with my kids; it comes from the training program I followed for the Boston Marathon. ‘Habits are easy to build and hard to break.’ Keep on building healthy habits and stay away from the unhealthy ones. I use it a lot with my children, but it really applies to everyone, in both the personal and professional aspects of our lives.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I honestly prefer to have a nice dinner with my wife, Mariana, to meeting anyone famous.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Here is my LinkedIn profile, and you can follow me on Twitter.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Bayer’s Nelson Ambrogio Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.