How a janitor at Frito-Lay invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos
Whilst POTUS pursues his wall building ambitions, here is a heart-warming story about how a first generation Mexican immigrant who dropped out of fourth grade, went on from being a janitor at Frito Lay to Vice President. A story of self belief and the will to succeed through a pursuit of excellence best captured by this advice from his grandfather when he got the janitor’s job “…his grandfather imparted a piece of advice that would always stick with him: “Make sure that floor shines,” the man told his grandson. “And let them know that a Montañez mopped it.” Montañez decided he was going to be the “best janitor Frito-Lay had ever seen” — and he quickly made his presence known. “Every time someone walked into a room, it would smell fresh,” he says. “I realized there’s no such thing as ‘just a janitor’ when you believe you’re going to be the best.”
“On an early morning in the late 1980s, a group of the highest-powered executives at Frito-Lay — the CEO, CMO, and a platoon of VPs — gathered in a California conference room to hear what Richard Montañez had to say. Montañez didn’t share their pedigree. He wasn’t an executive. He had no fancy degree. He had a 4th-grade-level education, and couldn’t read or write. Montañez was a janitor. But he was a janitor with an idea — an idea that would make the company billions of dollars and become one of history’s most celebrated and iconic snack foods: Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. But first, he had to convince the world to hear him out.
…Today, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are one of Frito-Lay’s hottest-selling commodities — a multi-billion-dollar snack celebrated by everyone from Katy Perry to middle-schoolers on meal vouchers. There’s even a rap song about them. And Montañez is no longer sweeping floors: Over a 35-year career, the former janitor rose through the corporate ranks and is now the vice president of multicultural sales for PepsiCo America (the holding company of Frito-Lay). Before Montañez joined the executive team, Frito-Lay had only 3 Cheeto products; since then, the company has launched more than 20, each worth $300m+.
Recognized by Newsweek and Fortune as one of the most influential Hispanic leaders in America, Montañez is a gifted speaker who often tours the country giving keynotes. And soon, his story will hit the silver screen: Fox Searchlight Pictures is currently working on a biopic about his life, appropriately titled “Flamin’ Hot.” He still lives in Rancho Cucamonga, where he gives back to his community through a nonprofit he launched and teaches MBA classes at a nearby college. Recently, a student asked him how he was teaching without a Ph.D. “I do have a Ph.D.,” he responded. “I’ve been poor, hungry and determined.””
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