by Renelaine Pfister
Charlene “Cha” Thompson was awarded Salesperson of the Year 2021 by Sales and Marketing Executives HNL on April 28, 2022. She is one of those rare individuals whose infectious enthusiasm and unadulterated joy shines through.
Tihati Productions Ltd. is the brainchild of Cha and her husband Papali’itele Jack “Tihati” Thompson, whom she met when they were attending Farrington High School. Cha is a proud graduate of the school, and said she met a lot of good people there. As it happens, one of her sons-in-law is currently a staff member, and she continues to support and give back to that community.
After attending Farrington, Cha became the lead dancer for Elaine Frisbie’s Puka Puka Otea show while Jack was a musician. When Ms. Frisbie retired, the pair kept the ensemble, and that is how Tihati Productions began.
Cha retired last year and handed over the reins to two of her children. Tihati Productions LTD, which opened in 1969, currently employs over 1,000 dancers, choreographers, singers and musicians from the Polynesian islands. They hold Hawaiian and Polynesian-themed shows, lounge entertainment and luaus across the Hawaiian Islands in various hotels and venues.
They also have several traveling units, which traverse and bring entertainment across the globe. They ran a show in Thailand for six years in a 5,000-seat theater and trained 250 Thai performers to continue the show when they left.
They have met and performed for many politicians, diplomats and royals, including His Majesty King of Tonga, the late Taufaahau Tupou IV, as well as the head of state of Samoa, His Highness, the late Malietoa Tanumafili II, who appointed Cha’s husband Jack the title Honorary Consul to the Independent State of Samoa.
Tihati Productions performed for President Obama at the White House in 2009, which Cha said felt surreal. She was given a private tour of the White House with her two children who now run the business.
Though Cha enjoyed incredible success for over 50 years, her story does not flow in the usual chronology.
Her parents were hard workers but did not emphasize education, so she was 55 years old when she earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in Judicial Administration from Hawaii Pacific University. She pursued a degree later in life because when she sat down for business meetings, others at the table asked her which college she went to.
It was a difficult early years for Cha. She grew up in Kalihi Valley Housing with four brothers and three sisters. When their parents divorced, her Hawaiian mother raised them. Cha’s father’s last name was Ortiz; her grandfather hailed from Siquijor, Philippines and Cha maintains strong ties to the Filipino community.
Cha’s parents were religious—her father was an Adventist and her mother was Catholic. When she married Jack, they started attending a non-denominational Christian Church. They have been going to Kaimuki Christian Church for 35 years. She feels lucky that her sons and daughters-in-law are all believers.
Aside from being a businesswoman, Cha served many and various roles over the years, including being on the Honolulu Police Commission for over eight years and working for Palama Settlement.
She was also Vice President of the Institute of Human Services Board of Directors, the Executive Board of Aloha United Way, Hawaii Council on Economic Education, President of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, Board member for the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Secretary and Treasurer of South Seas Christian Ministry for over 25 years.
Both Cha and her husband have garnered several awards over the years, including Hawaii’s Small Business Persons of the Year in 1986. Cha was honored as an inductee to the Hawaii Business Hall of Fame in 1990.
She taught her five children and her hanai children that “hard work is the only way to go, gang.” She feels blessed with her five children and sixteen grandchildren, who love to return home because “Papa is the best cook.”
Meanwhile, the advice Cha wants to impart to young entrepreneurs just starting their careers is to “not be ashamed or afraid of mistakes.” She instead smiled and cried through them.
When asked what the Salesperson of the Year award means to her, Cha replies, “The pride I take is that I have done something for my home, Hawaii.”
Cha is proud to be a hula girl and give back to the community. She says she knows where the blessings come from and every day, she gets down on her knees to thank God. “That’s real,” she says. “That’s no joke. All blessings come from above.”
by Renelaine Pfister