How Nikki Haley Built An $8 Million Fortune (And Helped Bail Out Her Parents)

At the height of her career, Nikki Haley’s family was short on cash. She quit the Trump administration—and made millions.

By Kavya Gupta, Forbes Staff

When 2024 presidential candidate Nikki Haley last served in office as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, her family’s finances were a mess. Her parents owed over $1 million and were in danger of losing their Lexington, South Carolina home. A devoted daughter, Haley had loaned them hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past with her husband. But she could not solve all of her parents’ problems, with less than $100,000 sitting in her bank accounts and $185,000 coming in each year in salary.

Haley stunned Washington by resigning her role in the Trump administration in 2018, less than two years after taking office. A spokesperson for Haley claims that the family financial troubles had “no bearing whatsoever on Ambassador Haley’s decision to leave her position” and points to a section of Haley’s resignation letter in which she expressed support for “rotation in office.” But the same letter also suggested that Haley may have had money-making ventures on her mind: “As a businessman,” she wrote to Donald Trump, “I expect you will appreciate my sense that returning from government to the private sector is not a step down but a step up.”

Indeed. Since then, Haley’s net worth has ballooned from less than $1 million to an estimated $8 million. How did she make so much money in so little time? By following a tried-and-true playbook for politicians looking to cash in on their fame. Speeches to companies like Barclays and organizations such as the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs provided more money in a day than Haley had previously earned in a year. It’s not clear how many talks she gave from 2019 to 2021, but Haley hauled in $2.3 million from just 11 events in 2022.

She wrote two books after leaving the Trump administration. A 2019 memoir sold more than 100,000 copies. A 2022 title provided more than $350,000 in advance payments. Haley also offered consulting services, generating more than $700,000 in fees. Then there were corporate boards. She became a director of Boeing in 2019, then stepped down the next year, collecting over $300,000 in cash and stock. Haley remains on the board of the United Homes Group, which has provided her with more than $250,000, as well as the promise of earning much more as equity grants vest down the road.

The story of Nikki Haley’s finances has roots in her childhood. As Haley tells it, her parents, Ajit and Raj Randhawa, came to America to offer their children opportunity, even though they lived comfortably in their native India — Haley’s father as the son of a commanding officer in the British colonial army and her mother in a large house full of servants. They settled in the small town of Bamberg, South Carolina in 1969. Haley’s father got a job as a professor, and, in 1976, her mother opened a clothing business named Exotica International.

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When Haley was 12 years old, her mother lost her bookkeeper for the business, so she put her daughter Nikki to work tracking finances. Nikki went on to study accounting at Clemson University, where she met her husband Michael. She graduated in 1994 and rejoined her mom’s business, serving as the chief financial officer. Things seemed to be going well: Haley’s parents purchased a 5,500-square-foot home on Lake Murray, just outside of Lexington, South Carolina, for $1.15 million in 2000, borrowing $920,000. Two years later, Haley’s mother, Raj Randhawa, was named runner up for a South Carolina small businessperson of the year award. In 2003, the Randhawas bought a Lexington strip mall for $1.3 million, taking out a $765,000 mortgage.

Haley’s ambitions soon took her in another direction. In 2004, she won a seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives. While serving in the legislature, she also held a fundraising position with the Lexington Medical Center, which paid her $110,000 a year. In 2010, she ran for governor and won, transforming herself into a national figure. She received $475,000 in advances from Penguin Books for her first title, “Can’t Is Not An Option,” which came out in 2012 and sold about 5,000 copies, according to NPD Bookscan data.

By then, her father and mother, who claimed to be retired, had taken out a second mortgage against the strip mall, allowing them to increase their debt load to as much as $1.1 million against the property. The next year, the website for Exotica International appears to have gone offline, according to archived versions of the site. Haley’s father sold off a handful of small residences that he had collected over the years, generating at least $600,000.

By 2014, the Randhawas’ finances appear to have gotten tight. That was the year then-Governor Haley and her husband loaned her parents $400,000, using both the strip mall and the lake house as collateral. Haley served a term and a half in office, and then Donald Trump selected her to be ambassador to the United Nations.

Before assuming the role, Haley had to file a financial disclosure report. It showed a small portfolio — just the rights to her book, a couple of pensions and a bank account with less than $15,000. Not included on the disclosure were what appear to have been her two largest assets, a $350,000 home in South Carolina and the $400,000 mortgage she held on her parents’ properties. Federal law does not require officeholders to disclose their personal residences or notes they hold from their family members, leaving the American public largely unaware of Haley’s financial situation.

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In April of 2017, her parents stopped paying back the loan they had taken out from Bank of America on their lake house. It was uncertain whether the Randhawas would be able to pay back their daughter. The next month, Nikki and her husband Michael, a defense entrepreneur, started making moves as part of an apparent attempt to bail out her parents.

Michael incorporated a company named Ikor Systems LLC on May 18. Two months later, Nikki’s parents sold the strip mall to Ikor Systems for $5 “and love and affection,” according to the deed. In taking ownership of the building, however, Ikor also assumed the Randhawas’ $1.1 million of remaining debt against the property — some owed to Wells Fargo and some owed to the Haleys. In July 2017, Ikor Systems took out a new $1.15 million mortgage with a lender named First South, then paid Wells Fargo back.

That November, representatives of Bank of America, still struggling to collect on the lake house mortgage, started foreclosure proceedings. In doing so, they had to serve court documents to the Randhawas, as well as Nikki and Michael Haley, who were initially also listed as defendants in the foreclosure case in their capacity as junior lenders on the property. Representatives showed up at both the Haleys’ and the Randhawas’ homes in South Carolina. Coming up empty, they went to the United Nations and tried to serve papers outside of the U.S. Mission building.

It’s not clear where exactly the Randhawas were living at this time, but their checks listed a penthouse apartment near the United Nations, which the U.S. government later purchased for $16 million in 2019. Security at the facility turned away the person trying to serve court papers.

In January 2018, Ikor Systems sold the strip mall to a developer for $1.3 million. That same month, Nikki Haley personally signed documents releasing the mortgage against the strip mall. She still held the junior mortgage against her parents’ house until June, when she canceled that one, too. Property records suggest that she did not get the money she had loaned her parents — Haley checked a box on the document saying that the mortgage was simply “released” rather than “paid in full.”

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With Haley backing out of her interest in the lake house, a lawyer for Bank of America moved to dismiss her and her husband from the foreclosure proceedings, ridding her of at least one headache. But her parents’ home was still in danger, and Haley, earning less than $200,000 a year as a government official, simply did not have the resources to help them much more. Her parents were finally served the court papers, via mail, in July 2018.

Three months later, with the case progressing, Haley submitted her resignation letter to Trump, agreeing to stay in office until the end of the year. In December, the Randhawas appeared in court in South Carolina, explaining that they were actively trying to sell the property to someone and requesting additional time to allow the buyer to obtain financing. They said they would be able to complete the sale by March of 2019.

But ultimately, that did not happen. The court ordered a sale of the property, which went at auction for $863,000 — nearly $300,000 less than the Randhawas had paid for it 19 years earlier. Haley’s financial situation improved dramatically around the same time, as she quickly moved to make money out of office, selling books and hitting the speaking circuit.

Shortly after Haley’s parents lost their home, Nikki purchased one of her own, taking out a $1.9 million mortgage to buy a four-bedroom, 5,700-square-foot home for $2.4 million on South Carolina’s Kiawah Island in September 2019. It nearly doubled in value, with real estate prices surging during the pandemic, and is now worth an estimated $4.7 million.

In 2022, Haley released her latest book, “If You Want Something Done…: Leadership Lessons from Bold Women.” She left a message for her mother on the dedication page: “To my mom, who taught me how to dream, how to fight, how to love, but most importantly how to live with a faith in God that would get me through anything.”

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