How SC’s Nikki Haley gets ready for her new job and the world stage


Before a S.C. governor steps on a plane for a foreign economic development trip, he or she first spends weeks studying a thick briefing book, prepared by the state Department of Commerce.

There are dossiers on corporate officials the governor will meet, plus a rundown of the company’s history, its relationship with the United States and South Carolina, the jobs it could bring and the specifics of its potential investment in the Palmetto State.

In some cases, the governor gets a tutorial on the country’s social norms: Businessmen in the Far East present their business cards with two hands and a bow, and it is an affront in some cultures to stop drinking before the host.

“It’s like putting together a battle plan for the Super Bowl,” said Bob McAlister, a spokesman and chief of staff under late S.C. Gov. Carroll Campbell. “It is a very detailed, time-consuming effort to get a governor prepared for an economic development trip overseas.”

Until now, those trips have served as the bulk of S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s foreign policy experience: eight visits to seven countries, helping attract more than $13 billion in overseas investment in the Palmetto State since 2011, according to the state Commerce Department.

That means President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has work to do before her Senate confirmation hearing, expected in January.

Haley’s office is tight-lipped on how she is preparing.

The Republican has said she would continue to serve as S.C. governor until her confirmation, though she has handed off traditional gubernatorial appearances — at military briefings and groundbreakings — to GOP Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster.

“In coordination with the presidential transition team, Gov. Haley has met with and spoken to numerous diplomatic and national security leaders, and she will continue to do so,” Haley spokeswoman Chaney Adams said.

Former ambassadors from South Carolina say Haley likely will spend at least the next month studying up on U.N. operations and international relations, even though she is expected to coast to confirmation.

“She’s getting a Ph.D,” said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca. “They’ve given her a lot of information to absorb.”

It will take time before Haley is fully comfortable as the face of the country on a prominent world stage, some say. But, most add, she has the skills necessary for the new role.

‘Drinking from a fire hose’

Since her nomination, Haley has reached out to David Wilkins, a Greenville attorney who was U.S. ambassador to Canada under former President George W. Bush, and spoken with Graham.

Graham said he talked to Haley about his views on the Middle East. But neither he nor Wilkins would go into detail on their discussions with the governor.

“We’ve had a couple of conversations about following your instincts, relying on (your staff),” Wilkins said. “There’s no way you can not feel overwhelmed at first, but it’ll all come to you.”

Prospective ambassadors, typically, receive an intense “crash course” from U.S. State Department officials, several former ambassadors said last week.

That usually starts with a two-week “ambassadors’ school” on everything from State Department jargon — DCH stands for “deputy chief of mission,” for example — to how to handle different document classifications, speak with media and run an embassy.

“It’s like drinking from a fire hose to start with because there’s so much being thrown at you,” Wilkins said.

After that follows another week learning about the ambassador’s destination country, including its history, political climate, government structure and key issues the ambassador could face.

Bob Royall, former S.C. secretary of Commerce and the U.S. ambassador to Tanzania under George W. Bush, remembers learning the east African country recently had converted to capitalism, its president was Catholic, and that it was one of the largest producers of cashews in Africa. He even spent a week starting to learn Swahili, the country’s official language.

Haley’s training for ambassador to the U.N. likely will be somewhat different.

She will live in New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, not a faraway embassy, and will interact with numerous countries, not just one.

Philip Lader, a former Winthrop University president and U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom’s Court of St. James under former President Bill Clinton, expects Haley instead will go through intensive briefings with the State Department on geopolitics and U.N. operations.

She likely will be given “stacks and stacks” of briefing books to study ahead of her Senate confirmation hearing, Lader said. Typically, prospective appointees also have a “mock hearing” in which State Department staff quizzes them ahead of the real thing before senators, he said.

“It’s a very intense process for any individual because it’s a big world out there,” Lader said. “But she has demonstrated an excellent capacity for learning.”

‘It’s the relationship skills’

Haley is not starting totally from Square 1.

She has some foreign experience from her eight trips abroad, which S.C. Commerce Department officials credit with a wave of new investments in the state.

German manufacturers Continental Tire and Mercedes-Benz, Singapore-based tire manufacturer Giti, and Swedish automaker Volvo have opened new plants in South Carolina since Haley’s inauguration. BMW, of Germany, and French tiremaker Michelin have expanded their operations here.

“Nikki Haley stood out above all the government officials we dealt with as one of the most impressive I’ve met,” said Tim Rogers, vice president of finance at Continental Tire the Americas. “She’s, by far, the most personable. She’s able to relate to people in all sincerity, not like a politician.”

Julianto Djajadi, Giti North America’s executive vice president for business operations, said his company’s foreign executives were at ease dealing with the daughter of Indian immigrants because they felt she has a “great understanding and appreciation” for international actors.

“That’s going to be very important,” Djajadi said. “Because her parents are immigrants and the diversity of the United States, she can see things from many different perspectives. In the international world, having that diverse background can be a bridge.”

Since 2011, nearly 200 companies from more than 30 countries have announced economic development projects in the Palmetto State, S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said.

Haley’s success in attracting foreign investment shows she is cut out for the U.N. job, former S.C. Gov. David Beasley said.

Relating to people from different backgrounds and views, and traveling abroad to negotiate for economic development and “selling your state” have prepared Haley, the Republican said.

“The most powerful weapon is not the knowledge of the individual walking into the room. It’s the relationship skills,” Beasley said.

“She has the personality, she has a powerful smile that will win hearts,” he added. “A hug, a smile, a loving handshake and she will have leaders eating out of her hand.”

‘A quick study’

Current and former S.C. leaders and diplomats have little doubt Haley can succeed.

Virtually all say she learns quickly, communicates clearly and can think on her feet, though she might be overwhelmed at first.

“She is very qualified,” said Wilkins, the former ambassador to Canada. “She’s a quick study. She’s smart. She’s got good people skills. She’s a very good communicator. She’s dealt with officials. She’s handled crises. All those skills she honed as a governor are very transferable.”

Haley also has received national praise as a unifier for her handling of the removal of the Confederate flag from the S.C. State House grounds after the 2015 Charleston massacre and her response to two natural disasters over the past 14 months.

Haley’s experience leading the state should translate to her new job, where she will be America’s face and voice to the U.N.’s 193 member states, former S.C. Gov. Jim Hodges said.

“The experiences you get as a governor in dealing with all types of different people and an array of different problems, that experience is hard to match,” the Democrat said. “That’s a more important element of picking anyone for a high-level job. Have they been exposed to making tough decisions? If they have, that’s probably a lot more important than how many countries they’ve been to.”

Sen. Graham said Haley’s demeanor is great for a job that’s one part diplomacy, one part political networking and one part charm.

“She can be very charming, but she’s tough,” the Republican said, adding that will help when her job requires being on the defense, such as standing up to the body if it targets Israel.

Haley’s Senate confirmation hearing is expected to be friendly. Senate Democrats have bigger fish to fry among Republican Trump’s cabinet nominees. But she could face questions on substantive issues, including past U.N. actions, the state of the U.N. budget or pressing foreign policy matters, Lader said.

Past ambassadors say their best advice is for Haley to consult her staff early and often.

“Your know-how comes from that staff and daily, continuous briefings she will be receiving about activities throughout the world,” said Royall, the former ambassador to Tanzania. “You wake up every morning with briefings.”

It would not hurt to get some sleep now, while she still can, Lader said.

“She’s not going to get as much for the next couple of years.”

Haley’s international resume

Gov. Nikki Haley’s international trips as governor of South Carolina:

2011: Paris air show, BMW's Munich HQ

2012: London air show

2012: Tokyo trade mission

2013: Frankfurt, Germany, auto show

2014: Canada trade mission

2014: India trade mission

2015: Sweden, Volvo plant negotiations

2015: Frankfurt auto show, Sweden trade mission

SOURCE: S.C. Department of Commerce