U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is gaining a reputation as a force to reckon with on the international stage.
The South Carolina-native’s appointment to the U.N. has paralleled a number of intense global matters involving North Korean missile tests, the plight of Syrian refugees and tensions with Russia, among others. Haley has not been shy about the message she wants to send to the international community, including initial remarks at U.N. headquarters stating there would be “a change in the way we do business,” she said.
“Our goal with the administration is to show value at the U.N., and the way we’ll show value is to show our strength, show our voice, have the backs of our allies and make sure our allies have our back as well,” Haley said.
Born in Bamberg, South Carolina, Haley is the daughter of Indian immigrants who came to the U.S. in 1969. She started building her career at a very young age, working at her family’s clothing business when she was just 13 years old. She says her parents always instilled this strong sense of patriotism in her that ultimately inspired the transition to politics.
“You know, I was an accountant and came back home to the family business and got tired of seeing how hard it was to make a dollar and how easy it was for the government to take it. My mom said, quit complaining about it, do something about it. So, I got into public office and then eventually ran for governor,” she said. “And truly, our family has always been a family of public servants — whether my husband was in the military or me serving as governor — my kids grew up like that, my family was always like that. My parents always reminded us how blessed we were to be in this country.”
When she was elected as South Carolina’s governor in 2010, she was the first female and first minority to ever hold that office. Haley served in that role for six years before getting the call from President Trump to become the 29th US Permanent Representative to the U.N..
“The only thing better than serving the state that raised me was serving the country that I am so passionately in love with,” she said.
As she was growing her career, her household was also experiencing the unique nature of military life. Her husband, Michael, joined the Army National Guard after the attacks of 9/11 and deployed to Afghanistan during her tenure as governor. But, she was no stranger to watching a loved one deploy to combat.
“Well, I started out as a military sister. My brother served in Desert Storm, was full-time Army, and led the last chemical weapons unit during that fight, and so I remember what it was like when he was deployed,” she said. “Back then, we didn’t have things like cell phones and emails, so it was watching those lights on TV thinking, oh my God what’s happening and who caught his call when he happened to call.”
Her intimate familiarity with the sacrifices attached to military service prepared her for her husband’s decision to serve, she says. A choice she is “unbelievably proud of.”
“He would talk to my brother a lot about what it meant to be in the military. And after 9/11 happened, he said, Nikki, I have to do this … and he had always supported me in everything I’ve done. I said OK, go,” she said. “You know, when it’s in their blood, you can’t stop them. And so, I am unbelievably proud of him and yes, we went through the deployment and single mom stuff, and all that when he was deployed in Afghanistan. I wouldn’t trade it, just because of the pride he has, the pride that we all have for him.”
At the time Haley ran for the governorship, her husband was already in the South Carolina National Guard. She says while there are some limitations in these situations, like he couldn’t campaign in uniform, they tackled it as a family affair.
“It was nothing more than an asset in my mind that he was in the military because I was so proud of the service that he had. He had the same love of state and country that I had,” she said. “So, it was just very natural for us to work together.”
Today, Haley’s work happens a long way from her southern upbringing. Her office sits directly across the street from the gathering place of the world’s leaders in Manhattan. Traveling the world is another important component of her job, which she says has been “sobering and heavy”.
“As ambassador, I think going to Jordan and Turkey — and seeing the Syrian refugees — was really hugely impactful for me. As well as going to Africa and seeing the refugees there. You can’t go to those countries and see the suffering and come back to our country and not want to do something about it. Because we are so blessed — and we’re not blessed because we live in this country, we’re blessed because of who we are in this country and a lot of that is helping other people,” she said.
Haley added that these experiences make her want to fight harder in her job.
In addition to representing the U.S. at the U.N. and supporting her husband’s military service, Haley is a mom of two children. Her career may be demanding, but she has learned a few core values on making it all work.
“It’s family first and then prioritize after that. And, you know, try not to be so hard on yourself, but look at every day and say I’m going to make today better than yesterday. That’s it. Don’t try and overdue, don’t try and spread yourself too thin. Make every day count.”
After the interview:
What are you currently reading: “Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick” by Peter Collier
Favorite place you have traveled to and why: As governor, I traveled to India and I got to see all of the places that my parents talked about in their stories.
Go-to activity to destress: Listening to music, whether it’s in the gym, on a flight, or in the car, music makes me happy.
Who is someone that inspires you: I am easily inspired, but the one that comes to mind, my mom. She was always the one that said whatever you do be great at it.Read comments