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Representative Nikki Randhawa Haley - Accountant, Business Owner

Representative Nikki Haley

Representative Nikki Haley

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Interview October 2007

MidlandsBiz:
Speak a little about the the history of Exotica International, Inc.

Nikki Haley:
My parents came here from India – my father with a PhD 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.

MidlandsBiz:
How are you involved in the company?

Nikki Haley:
Today, I still do the accounting for the company and am the acting Chief Financial Officer.
 
MidlandsBiz:
How has the apparel industry changed over the past two decades?

Nikki Haley:
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.
 
MidlandsBiz:
Why did you run for public office?

Nikki Haley:
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.
 
MidlandsBiz:
Can you speak candidly about life as a House representative? What is it like?
 
Nikki Haley:
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.

MidlandsBiz:
What are three key issues for you personally and for this State as it tries to get to the next level economically?

Nikki Haley:
First, we need to continue to support legislation that improves the bottom line of businesses in this state, whether that's workers comp 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.

MidlandsBiz:
What committees and subcommittees are you working on? What progress are you making on these committees?

Nikki Haley:
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.

MidlandsBiz:
You also are a mother of 2 children. How do you balance the pressures of family, personal business and service to state?

Nikki Haley:
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.

MidlandsBiz:
Describe your leadership style?

Nikki Haley:
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.

MidlandsBiz:
What can we do to advance the status of women in the state?

Nikki Haley:
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.

MidlandsBiz:
Who do you like at the national presidential level? Why?

Nikki Haley:
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.

MidlandsBiz:
What opportunities do you see for this state over the next couple of decades?

Nikki Haley:
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.

MidlandsBiz:
How else are you involved in the business community?

Nikki Haley:
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 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.

MidlandsBiz:
What are your favorite movies/music/TV shows?

Nikki Haley:
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.
 
MidlandsBiz:
If you weren't running a business, what would you most like to do in the world?

Nikki Haley:
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.