Nikki Randhawa Haley -An Interview with MIDLANDSBIZ
A Full Life
One of the strongest fiscal conservatives in state government, Nikki (Nimrata Kaur) Randhawa-Haley continues to earn the trust of District 87 voters in South Carolina, U.S.A., through hard work, principled leadership on behalf of her constituents and an unwavering commitment to the taxpayer's bottom line.
A pro-business leader in the fight for lower taxes and less government, Nikki has fought wasteful spending at every turn during her time in the state's capital, Columbia, pushing for smaller, more efficient and more accountable government. In advancing reforms designed to make South Carolina ("S.C.") more competitive, she has emerged in the House of Representatives as a true "Reagan Republican", a tireless proponent of common sense legislation designed to raise income levels, create new jobs and materially enhance quality of life.
For her efforts to cut taxes and slow the growth of government spending, Nikki was named "Friend of the Taxpayer" (2005) by the S.C. Association of Taxpayers and a "Taxpayer Hero" (2005) by S.C. Governor Mark Sanford. She has also received the Palmetto Leadership Award from the S.C. Policy Council for her expertise on policy matters and the Strom Thurmond Excellence in Public Service and Government Award from the S.C. Federation of Republican Women for the outstanding constituent service she provides to her district.
Since becoming the first Republican Party Sikh-American (and South-Asian) in the nation to win a State House seat in 2004, Nikki has been named Chairman of the Freshman Caucus (2005) and Majority Whip (2006), and was recently appointed to the powerful House Labor, Commerce and Industry (LCI) Committee.
Born in Bamberg, S.C., Nikki graduated from Clemson University with a B.S. degree in accounting. She currently serves as Chief Financial Officer for her family's clothing company, Exotica International, Inc. Nikki also currently serves on the board of directors for the Lexington Medical Foundation, Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church Medmission, and the Lexington County Meth Taskforce. She is a member of the Lexington County Chamber of Commerce, Lexington Rotary Club, National Association of Women Business Owners, West Metro Republican Women, Lexington County Republican Party and the National Rifle Association.
Daughter of Dr. Ajit Singh and Raj Kaur Randhawa, Nikki now lives, along with her husband, Michael, in Lexington; they have two children, Rena, 9, and Nalin, 6.
Speak a little about the history of Exotica International, Inc.
My parents came here from Amritsar, India - my father with a Ph.D. and my mother with a law degree - to travel the country and see the United States. They made the decision to leave a great life in India and start over here, because they saw the opportunities that would be available to their children. My mom loved the American tradition of passing things down to your children. Having left India, they wanted to do the same thing for us and so that's how Exotica was born. It was established in 1976 out of a room in my parents' home, but today, it is a 10,000 square foot store in West Columbia.
We learned the value of hard work and the meaning of self discipline, working in the store. We learned that rewards don't come without sacrifices, and that if you do a job - you do it right or you don't do it at all.
I started out in the store by dusting shelves, stocking, and eventually, when I was in middle school, I began doing the books for the store. Basically, I grew up doing payroll, taxes and budgeting at an early age.
My parents never thought of our ages as limitations. We were always taught that we could be successful at anything we put our minds to.
How are you involved in the company?
Today, I still do the accounting for the company and am the acting Chief Financial Officer.
How has the apparel industry changed over the past two decades?
You probably need to ask my mom about that! I know what I like to wear, but there's definitely a reason she follows the fashion trends and I stay focused on the accounting.
Why did you run for public office?
My parents always taught us two things: The best way to appreciate God's blessings is to give back to others, and also "Don't complain about it . . . do something about it".
As part of a small family business, I saw the needs that companies were facing and that we needed a real advocate in state government. Small businesses make up 95% of our economy, but I never saw government stepping up to acknowledge that.
I felt that the State House needed a strong business advocate, someone with personal experience who understood what creating a healthy business climate was all about and who knew how to get there. I didn't necessarily at the time think about the complications of running for office, I just knew that I needed to do it.
Can you speak candidly about life as a House representative? What is it like?
It's a real blessing. I feel truly fortunate to be able to serve the people of Lexington County as well as the people of South Carolina. Having served three years, I can honestly say it is what you make of it.
I'm a worker by nature, and both the House Leadership and the Governor's Office recognized that from day one. They let me dive right into the policy decisions and start working on pro-business reforms the moment I arrived, and I think the quality of the work I've done has helped me advance in the leadership. I've also been supported by great friends from both sides of the aisle.
My goal when I ran was to improve the quality of life for people in my district and in our state, and by working hard and staying focused on the issues, I have had an opportunity to do just that.
What are three key issues for you personally and for this state, as it tries to get to the next level economically?
First, we need to continue to support legislation that improves the bottom line of businesses in this state, whether that's workers compensation reform, tort reform, tax credits or other pro-growth measures. We also need to keep in mind that economic development has as much to do with taking care of the businesses we have as it does with bringing new business in.
Second, we need to reform the tax code in a way that is more fair and balanced for everyone who pays into it, and more competitive in terms of our state protecting its current jobs and attracting new jobs. A big part of that is making the budget as efficient and effective as possible so that the state's needs are being met, but also so that more money goes back into the pockets of the citizens of South Carolina who worked so hard to earn it.
Third, we have to improve the quality of education so that South Carolina can develop a workforce that is strong and so that our children have every opportunity for a successful future.
What committees and subcommittees are you working on? What progress are you making on these committees?
I currently serve on the Insurance subcommittee as well as the Business and Commerce subcommittee. This past session, I was able to play a lead role in passing our new workers' comp reform law through the Business and Commerce subcommittee. I also worked on the Coastal Insurance Reform bill that was so vital to our coastal economy and to thousands of residents who were suffering from the lack of availability or affordability of insurance.
You also are a mother of two children. How do you balance the pressures of family, personal business and service to state?
I think I do what every mother does, which is the best I can. My family is incredibly supportive of what I do. The good thing about accounting, payroll and taxes is that you don't have to work during normal business hours. When the legislature is in session, you may see me there early in the morning or late at night, but the work always gets done.
The service aspect of being a legislator is certainly 24 hours a day, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. I love the challenge of serving 35,000 people who need help every day, and I love helping my constituents find what they need or solving a problem for them. I learned in business about the importance of personal relationships and satisfied customers, and I think people in politics could learn a lot from that example.
The balance of my life, though, always comes from my family. No matter how hectic my schedule gets, Friday nights are always "Haley Family Fun Nights" for our family and Sundays are our days to worship as a family, relax and just be together.
Describe your leadership style?
I believe in leading by surrounding yourself with good people. Realizing that everyone has great qualities that need to be tapped and utilized. I believe in keeping an open mind and allowing those around you to show what they are made of. The key to leadership is to bring out the talents from the bottom up, not from the top down.
What can we do to advance the status of women in the state?
The reason we are last in the nation in women serving as elected officials is that women don't run. We have wonderfully qualified and educated women in this state, and we need them as resources in leadership positions and in government. If we can increase the number of women who take that first step and get involved, we will start to see the numbers of women who hold office improve greatly.
Who do you like at the national presidential level? Why?
I'm supporting Governor Mitt Romney for President. He exemplifies everything I think our country needs right now. He is someone from the outside, a business person who understands the importance of stretching a dollar. He's also proven himself capable of handling crisis situations in his dealings at Bain Capital, with the Utah Olympic Games and as Governor of Massachusetts. He understands that running a strong and efficient government doesn't come from talking about it, but from getting your hands dirty and doing it.
What opportunities do you see for this state over the next couple of decades?
We have some tremendous opportunities before us as a state. Our state is changing and growing, which presents us with the chance to see South Carolina for what it can be and to make the changes we need to get us there.
We need change to improve education in a way that gives every parent the ability to personalize and guarantee that their child gets the best education possible. We need change to create a better business climate. We need change to ensure that South Carolina remains a great place to live, work and raise a family.
Our state has so many advantages, and I see this next decade in particular as a real test of whether or not we're going to start using those advantages to enhance our prosperity, our freedoms and our quality of life.
How else are you involved in the business community?
I am a past president of the National Association of Women Business Owners and a former board member of the Lexington County Chamber of Commerce. I stay involved with the business community not only locally, but also statewide through my work on the Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee. Working on this committee allows me to keep my pulse on the business community in South Carolina. It lets me hear their needs and work towards making their businesses more successful, which is why I got involved in public service in the first place.
What are your favorite movies/music/TV shows?
My favorite movies would have to be You've Got Mail and The Notebook.
I love all kinds of music, but I have a guilty pleasure for the 80's. My favorite musician continues to be John Mayer, and my favorite TV show is Grey's Anatomy.
If you weren't running a business, what would you most like to do in the world?
I'm doing it. Being a wife, a mom, a business owner and a representative, all at the same time, really is my dream come true.
Conversation about this article
1: Bhupinder Singh Ghai (New Delhi, India), November 12, 2007, 2:38 AM.
Being a successful Sikhni is actually a double-edged sword for the Sikh community as, on one hand, they are ambassadors of Sikh culture but also, they become a liablility to the community - we do not have enough educated, highly placed males in the community. Some of these women invaribly end up marrying non-Sikhs and thus contribute in the reduction of Sikh offspring. The trend is all across the world, including India. It is a pity the Sikh leadership is oblivious of this fact.
2: Savraj Singh (Seattle, WA, U.S.A.), November 13, 2007, 12:38 PM.
Thanks for this post. It would have been nice if sikhchic.com could have interviewed her and asked, "How has Sikhi inspired your work?" Because, as a sikhchic.com reader, that's what I'm most interested in. There are many people that can claim a Sikh heritage - this article sheds little light on Nikki's connection to it.
3: Ruby Kaur (Oxford, England), November 13, 2007, 4:06 PM.
What a typical patriarchal mindset Bhupinder Singh expresses. Anyone who can say that a Sikh woman becomes a 'liability' simply for being successful clearly represents how backwards our culture can be in treating women as some kind of chattel who are expected to carry the burden of the community's 'honour' and 'image'. Secondly, it suggests that Sikh women should not excel or succeed in order to spare the embarrassment of Sikh men who have not themselves succeeded; again another patriarchal and feudalistic mindset that seeks to denigrate and stigmatize Sikh women, in this case for the supposed lack of success of Sikh males. Thirdly, complaining about Sikh women marrying non-Sikhs and complaining about it and not mentioning that Sikh men are also marrying out, and then blaming them for the 'reduction of Sikh numbers' when the truth is that the reduction of Sikhs is mainly caused by female foeticide not only amongst those in the Punjabi villages but amongst the educated middle and upper class Sikhs of Delhi, Punjab and elsewhere (a hateful phenomena caused by this very feudalistic mindset), is absolutely scandalous. It also arrogantly pre-supposes that a Sikh marrying a non-Sikh forsakes their religion or does not pass it on to their children. Is it any surprise that so many Sikh women (and increasingly) Sikh men, especially those living in the West, seek to escape from this warped value system and onerous feudalistic burden of a closed minded society, that stigmatizes and oppresses women, and is hostile to anyone who deviates from their narrow view of how things should be?
4: Ruby Kaur (Oxford, England), November 13, 2007, 5:13 PM.
Savraj Singh, Nikki Randhawa-Haley is of Sikh heritage. We can all see that, and I personally don't need to have explained to me in minute detail every aspect of her identity or spiritual observance to know this. Her energy and success in her field is itself of interest to me. But it's also very interesting that out of all the interviews sikhchic.com has published with Sikhs around the world who have succeeded in various areas of life, business, politics, the professions, sport, music, art, including interviews which don't touch specifically on the Sikh heritage of the person in question, it is only a woman who should have this aspect of her identity questioned, and a negation of her Sikhness implied, and it is only Sikh men who display this attitude. Because, as we have already been told by Bhupinder Singh - successful Sikh women are in actual fact (in the minds of some) a 'iability' to the community. We must be the only race of people on Earth who consider successful women to be a 'liability' to their community. Whatever Nikki has achieved, she has achieved in the face and context of this kind of chauvinism and exclusivity, and just reading her own words as a successful woman from the Sikh diaspora is an inspiration.
5: H. Kaur (U.K.), November 13, 2007, 8:07 PM.
Would have been nice if she had used her beautiful Sikh name "Nimrata Kaur Haley" and also wished that her children had been raised Sikhs. Unfortunately, to "fit in", many have adopted Christian sounding nicknames and "westernised" behaviour. All in the name of temporary "Maya". What a shame!
6: Ravinder Kaur (Canada), November 14, 2007, 8:59 AM.
Thank you, Ruby. As far as I have witnessed growing up, few Sikh know anything about their faith. Isn't being a Sikh being a disciple of the One God? If Guru Nanak didn't judge, neither should anyone else. What do we know of her spirituality and how she meditates on Waheguru. I see a lot of Sikh offspring that do not embody any cell of what you would call Sikhi. If she chooses to marry outside of the Sikh community, so what? How does that change every cell in her body that may chant the Guru's name. It doesn't. She is successful, her parents are proud and honour her; she has a jivan saathi and children and seems to embrace the path she is on. Sikhi may not inspire her. For some, Sikhi sustains them, for others it maintains them. If she is living in the path of truth, that is being a true Sikh.
7: Prabhu Singh Khalsa (EspaÃ±ola, New Mexico, U.S.A.), November 14, 2007, 2:48 PM.
I really enjoy Sikhchic.com but this is another in a long list of articles that are not really "Sikh" relevant (in my opinion). If we are to presume that she is a Sikh, is it safe to presume that she cares about righteousness? Perhaps that she cares about issues such as genocide? She seems to be proud to be aligned with people like Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan, amongst a litany of bad (really evil) deeds, supported Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet was a ruthless genocidal killer. Ronald Reagan cannot claim innocence in his support of many vile acts of genocide worldwide. Actually, almost no American president is free of supporting genocide. Those who are proud to associate with him are either ignorant or disgusting themselves. There is no excuse for war mongering or wide-scale greed, corruption, destruction, etc. And there is no excuse for a Sikh to support those perpetrating such acts. If we have the power to be in politics, we should be independent and never align ourselves with any shady character.
8: Bhupinder Singh Ghai (New Delhi, India), November 15, 2007, 4:15 AM.
I am really surprised at such an acerbic remark from Ruby Kaur on my post. Firstly, I would like to state that I really appreciate the equality of women which our Gurus have given us. My heart swells with pride on reading about success of Sikhnis. My point was that it is wonderful that Sikhnis are excelling, so it is time now for the Sikh males to catch up. They have no choice but to succeed in every field they choose. I would love that day when Sikh women are overwhelmed by the choice of potential Sikh suitors who are highly educated and highly placed. Never did I suggest that Sikh women should not excel. While I am defintely not against empowerment of women, Ruby sounds like she beara a grudge against men in general and Sikh men in particular. The fact that Sikh women are excelling is that Sikh culture and way of life, and the support of their families, have been contibutory factors in thier success. What are they giving back to the community? They love the freedom to think freely that Sikhi gives, but they do not want to do anything for its Chardikala? What is the harm in wishing for an increase in Sikh numbers? Give me one example where a successful Sikhni has married a non-Sikh and is raising her kids as Sikhs? Finally, I would like to remind Ruby that Sikh males are no less in any field. If we look at the history of the Sikhs for the last 300 years, they surely had many pre-occupations to hold them back to pursue eductional/vocational fields. Firstly, they had to deal with the yranny of the Mughals, then they had the British and later they had Partition and 1984. Even to this this day and age, they are also under severe pressure due to their appearance but still excel in each and every field. Just remember, had it not been for the sacrifice of these brave Sikh men(and, of course, Sikh women), she would no longer be Ruby Kaur ... may be Rubina Begum in a burqa in an Islamic India. So, just to change the mindset that she appears to represent, it is a challenge for the guys to work even harder.
9: Ravinder Singh (London, England), November 19, 2007, 6:15 PM.
Both Ruby and Bhupinder have missed the fact that in Sikhism, there is no difference between man and woman: it is clearly enunciated by Guru Nanak.
10: D. Gill (New Jersey, U.S.A.), November 21, 2007, 3:01 PM.
Good article. I am pround of her. I have a comment on Bhupinder Singh's post. The number of Sikhs is not being reduced because Sikh women are marrying non-sikhs. The numbers are threatened because most of Sikh youth is not on the right track. I was in Punjab recently and saw so many young Sikh men smoking openly and doing all kinds of drugs. That is how Sikhi is being lost, not by marrying non-sikhs.
11: M. Kaur (Washington DC, U.S.A.), November 24, 2007, 2:13 PM.
Some of the comments here are really an embarrassment to the Sikh community. I have to second the sentiments of Ruby Kaur - it's no wonder so many young people are rushing to escape any and all association with these people. If you are a true Sikh, why not practice what you preach and accept all people regardless of their race? All you holier-than-thou types really need to take a look in the mirror. By the way, I am far from being a Republican and probably disagree with the majority of Nikki Randhawa-Haley's views, but I must say that people like her still serve as role models to Sikh (and minority/South Asian, in general) women everywhere. To call her a "liability" simply because she is successful and chose to marry a non-Sikh is inexcusable bigotry, and I am disgusted to see it coming from the mouth of a so-called Sikh.
12: Sukhdev Singh Shergill (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), January 04, 2008, 12:12 AM.
Which part of her name tells us that she is a Sikh? It is obvious that far from being proud of being a Sikh, she actually wants to conceal the fact.
13: Lisa Raul (Columbia), August 16, 2009, 11:33 AM.
There is no need to be a sell-out to be accepted. Really, just be yourself.
14: Mandeep Singh (Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S.A.), June 10, 2010, 5:42 PM.
Nikki Haley is not a Sikh (by her own admission recently). So, why is she being profiled on sikhchic.com? She is successful obviously, has a pretty well-adjusted family (given the recent adultery allegations), is on the board of a Methodist church, and is (in my opinion), a pretty disgusting piece of work (anyone "proud" to receive an endorsement from that racist ignorant nutcase, Sarah Palin, cannot be otherwise). I do not see hindus claiming Bobby Jindal to be one of their own. Why should we claim this Methodist to be ours? Or have you already forgotten the last time some Methodist preacher tried to "save your soul"?
15: Jas Singh (Canada), June 14, 2010, 9:39 AM.
"She believes in a Christan god, not Sikh God [God of all peoples]". She has also changed her name from Nimrata to Nikky. lol
16: Mahendra (Framingham, MA, U.S.A.), June 22, 2010, 1:47 PM.
I agree with Mandeep (#14) that she is not a Sikh, at least not a practicing one. She is of Sikh heritage though but there is no need to claim her as a Sikh when she clearly distances herself from Sikhism.
17: S.S. (New York, U.S.A.), June 22, 2010, 10:12 PM.
I really don't think she is a Sikh, let alone be proud of her heritage. Same boat as Bobby Jindal, Ramesh Ponnuru, Dinesh D'Souza, etc and all the other fake desis. We don't really need them.
18: Sarabjeet Singh (Mumbai , India), June 25, 2010, 7:56 AM.
Guys, Nikki Haley is not a Sikh. She converted to Christianity. Apparently, you can only be elected in a U.S. election if you declare yourself a Christian! [Democracy - a la America!]
19: Sarabjit Singh (Seattle, U.S.A.), July 12, 2010, 4:13 PM.
I commend Nikki Randhawa Haley's achievements in business and politics, even though I do not agree with all her political views. And I understand her being profiled on sikhchic.com due to her Sikh heritage. However, touting her as a role model for Sikh women is inappropriatet. She has embraced Christianity, and is raising her children as Christians, which is her personal choice. While it is nobody's business to judge anyone's choice of religion or spouse, all communities have a clear criteria of who to think of as a role model. Common sense dictates that role models of any community or religion should be people who represent both the values and practices of their faith in their conduct. We may lack in such role models in the Sikh community, especially in the west. However, does that mean we obfuscate the criteria and launch into endless discussions on what it means to be a good Sikh or human being? Personally, I feel that a role model for Sikhs can only be a practicing Sikh who, among other things, has also kept his/her Sikh identity intact.
20: Jagdish Singh Randhawa (Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar, Punjab), November 06, 2010, 4:56 AM.
I am happy to hear the news about Nikki Randhawa. She is energetic.
21: Gurinder Grewal (Ogdensburg, New York, U.S.A.), January 12, 2011, 9:59 PM.
I am proud of her achievements. I know many other Sikhs (including Sikh males) who have given up Sikhi for the sake of getting ahead and yet did not make it as far as Nikki, but they would still like to consider themselves more Sikh then Nikki. I do note that she does wear a karra. So obviously all is not lost. As far as Sikh offsprings are concerned, mothers usually have a greater influence over spiritual development of children than fathers.
22: Jagdish Singh Randhawa (S.B.S.Nagar, Punjab), January 15, 2011, 8:11 PM.
Nikki, wWe have a lot of confidence in you.
23: T. Singh (Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.), June 06, 2011, 1:15 PM.
I find this all pretty disgusting. I can understand but don't agree at all with changing your outward appearance in the West. What I don't agree with is changing one's religion to a Methodist. It must be so tough to be a Sikh nowadays. It must have been easier 300 years ago, when the price on your head was 100 gold pieces!
24: Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texas, U.S.A.), September 11, 2011, 1:16 AM.
Thank you, Ruby Kaur, for bringing out some aspects that we usually ignore. In June 2011 Nikki visited Dallas. Someone asked her from the audience if she could greet the audience in Punjabi. She responded, Sat Sri Akal. I met her informally and greeted her with Sat Sri Akal and she responded the same way.
25: Satnam (Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.), May 15, 2012, 4:42 PM.
Our Gurus gave up their lives for their values and beliefs and did not accept philosophies or religions that were convenient just for their survival or material gain. Nikki may have a Sikh background but she is not a Sikhni. Period.
26: R Singh (Canada), April 23, 2014, 6:49 AM.
First of all we have to stop addressing sikh women as 'sikhnis'. It is downright patronizing. Secondly, the problem is that we are not fostering a sense of belonging for our successful women, instead we get ready with our brick-bats, eager to condemn. We cannot envision them taking their place in the wider world, outside of our mental ghettos, the very restrictive constructs imposed by a siege mentality. Can we adopt a positive attitude and instill and have faith that our girls will be the best ambassadors for the creed of Nanak, which is universalist in nature, instead expecting censure and disapproval for very action, to the beat of constant criticism from those who can and should give them the confidence to project their intrinsic Sikh values? How about focusing on making them proud of us for a change, that they can point out and say, these are my people?