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Meet Nikki Haley: First Indian-American to Serve Presidential Cabinet

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Updated On: 29 Jan 2024

Meet Nikki Haley: First Indian-American to Serve Presidential Cabinet

Nikki Haley also known as Nimarata Nikki Haley is an American politician who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from January 2017 to December 2018 in the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. Nikki was the first Indian-American in the presidential cabinet and the first woman to serve as governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017 (as the 116th governor of South Carolina). She is also a candidate in the 2024 Republican Party presidential cabinet. 

Birth, Early Life, and Education

Nimarata Nikki Haley was born on the 20th of January 1972 at Bamberg County Hospital in Bamberg, South Carolina. She is an American politician and diplomat of Indian origin. Nikki Randhawa’s parents were immigrant Sikh parents hailing from Amritsar, Punjab, India. The parents owned a small foreign goods store that evolved into a hugely successful clothing and gift venture. Nikki’s father, Ajit Singh Randhawa, was a professor at Punjab Agricultural University, and her mother, Raj Kaur Randhawa, received her law degree from the University of Delhi.

The couple emigrated from India to Canada back in 1964 after Nikki’s father, Ajit, received a scholarship to pursue his studies at the University of British Columbia. Upon completing his Ph. D. in 1969 from the same university, he and his family moved to South Carolina. He became a Biology professor at Voorhees College, a historically black institution in Denmark, South Carolina, and in 1998, he retired from teaching. Nikki’s mother, Raj Kaur, earned her Matster’s in Education and for 7 years, she became a teacher in Bamberg public schools. Later on, she opened Exotica International, a women’s clothing boutique, in West Columbia in May 1976. Nikki started helping her parents with bookkeeping in the boutique at the age of 12. In a span of a few years, the couple opened a men’s clothing boutique, The Gentlemen’s Quarters in 1993. In 2008, the couple had to close the shops after Raj retired from merchandising. 

Nikki Haley has two brothers and a sister. She completed her schooling at Orangeburg Preparatory Schools, in 1989. She attended Clemson University and earned her BS degree in accounting and finance in 1994. Haley was always known by her middle name, Nikki, a Punjabi name referring to someone as ‘little one,’ since her birth.

Early Career

After her graduation, Haley worked for FCR Corporation, a waste management and recycling company before working as the chief financial officer and bookkeeper at her family’s clothing business. In 1996, she got married to Michael Haley, and shortly after that she developed an interest in civic affairs. Her name was enlisted to the board of directors of the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce. In 2003, she was enlisted to the board of directors of the Lexington Chamber of Commerce. In the same year, she became the treasurer of the National Association of Women Business Owners. In 2004 Nikki won a seat in the state House of Representatives, campaigning on a traditional Republican platform that included tax cuts, immigration controls, and abortion restrictions. She took office the following year and was reelected in 2008. 

Governor of South Carolina

Haley became the governor of South Carolina on November 2, 2010, defeating Democratic candidate Vincent Sheheen. She was the first person to be elected the governor of South Carolina who wasn’t a white man. She was the first non-white and non-male governor in the history of the United States of America along with Susana Martinez of New Mexico. She was the second Indian American governor ever after Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. Haley was reelected on November 4, 2014, defeating Sheheen.

United States Ambassador to the United Nations

In 2016, President Donald Trump nominated Governor Haley to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. In that role, she also served as a member of the President’s Cabinet and on the National Security Council. As ambassador, Haley defended U.S. interests, kept the country safe, and championed human rights.

Personal life

Nikki and Michael Haley met at Clemson University. Haley married Michael Haley on September 7, 1996. The couple first married in a service in a Sikh gurdwara in Columbia, then a month later in a ceremony in St. Andrew By-The-Sea United Methodist Church on Hilton Head Island. She converted that year to Christianity. She said, “We chose Christianity because of the way we wanted to live our lives and raise our children.” The couple celebrated in both Sikh and Methodist ceremonies. The pair have two children, Rena, who was born in 1998, and Nalin, born in 2001. She and her husband regularly attend the United Methodist Church. Additionally, the couple also attends Sikh services once or twice a year. She visited the Harmandir Sahib with her husband in 2014 during her visit to India. Michael, a combat veteran, deployed to Afghanistan in 2013, making Nikki the first governor in U.S. history to have her spouse deployed. 

Net Worth

Nikki and her family reside on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, near the city of Charleston. The net worth of this diplomat is approximately $1 million according to Forbes reports of 2019. In 2022, her net estimate grew to $8 million driven by book sales and joining corporate boards of Boeing and United Homes Group. Most lucrative of all have been her speaking engagements that brought her around $2.5 million over 11 months ending in January 2023. These were delivered to banks, businesses, and advocacy groups. The content of her speeches, however, hasn’t been disclosed.

Books, Honours, and Awards

  • Books written by Nikki Haley are as follows:
NamePublishing HousePublished Year
Can’t Is Not an Option: My American StorySentinel, New York2012
With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and GraceSt. Martin’s Press, New York2019
A Better Blueprint for International Organizations: Advancing American Interests on the Global StageFoundation for Defense of Democracies2021
If You Want Something Done: Leadership Lessons from Bold WomenSt. Martin’s Press, New York2022
  • Nikki has secured two honorary degrees, i.e., a Doctorate of Humanities from Clemson University in 2018 and a Doctorate of Public Service from the University of South Carolina in 2015.
  • In 2013, Haley received an honorary 4th-dan black belt in Taekwondo.
  • Other than these she has received awards from India Abroad, the International Republican Institute, Christians United for Israel, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the Hudson Institute, the Independent Women’s Forum, UN Watch, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the American Enterprise Institute, and the World Jewish Congress.
Soundarya Kamat

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