Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 2017 to 2019, discussed her career and leadership philosophies in a keynote conversation with Mitch Mac Donald, group editorial director of DC Velocity during the MODEX Monday keynote.
Haley recounted her personal story of growing up in a two-stoplight town as a member of an Indian-American family—her mother an entrepreneur, her father a professor. After earning a degree in accounting and a business career, Haley rose to the position of Governor of South Carolina. There, she focused on the state’s economic growth and economy, with a particular emphasis on facilitating opportunities for small business.
“If your small companies do well and have more revenue, they’re going to hire more people. If they’re healthy, then your economy will be healthy,” said Haley, explaining her philosophy on business as Governor.
“As Governor I was very focused on supply chain as well,” she continued. “It goes to the heart of your economy. Workforce, infrastructure, technology, policy—they all have to align, and it starts at the state level. In South Carolina, we had put all eggs in one basket with the textile industry, which then went overseas. Before the state could pick up and move forward, we had to build a good business base.”
Haley instituted policies that minimized bureaucratic red tape and sped up approvals: “It was a ‘no papers on your desk’ [policy]. It’s not acceptable to cost people time because time is money.”
She also focused on expanding the state’s water and inland ports, as well as its roads, air, and rail infrastructure. “There’s a positive impact from focusing on supply chain sectors. I think the role of state government is to be a partner, to facilitate relationships between business and educators and business and legislatures,” she said. “It’s about communication and seeing government as a partner, and that government also sees industry as a partner.”
With those pro-business practices in effect, Haley worked to entice foreign investment. Every international company that expressed interest in the state was assigned a point person from the commerce department to help them navigate state and local government regulations.
“We also partnered them with a technical school and sent representatives from the school to learn what the jobs were and how to train South Carolinians to do those jobs,” recalled Haley. “As a result, 98 percent of those who were trained were hired by these international businesses when they came into the state. In all, during my term, South Carolina brought in $20 billion in foreign investment—which led to our state being nicknamed ‘the beast of the southeast.’”
Haley also discussed her approach to combating polarization and finding common ground.
“When you’re faced with a challenge, if you first talk about the things you agree on, everybody lets their guard down and you can work together to get to a solution,” she said. “In negotiations, to be successful you have to understand the fears and the worries of the people you’re negotiating with, then address those concerns with solutions and goals on the other side.
“Too many times in negotiations, people are quick to talk about what they want. You have to listen first and be patient in the process. When the other side feels heard, magic happens. It’s about building relationships and trust—and keeping your word. Because no one is going to protect your integrity but yourself,” concluded Haley.