Flamin' Hot Cheetos

The Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Story: How An Uneducated Janitor’s Brilliant Snack Idea Made Him Millions

Flamin' Hot Cheetos
Sean Levinson

The man responsible for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is a former janitor whose life changed forever when he began to share his own spicy seasoning with a few friends and co-workers.

The Kansas City Star reports that back in 1976, Richard Montañez was a janitor in the Frito-Lay plant in Rancho Cucamonga, California, who had created a unique spice that he often topped the plant’s Cheetos with.

He eventually shared the recipe with his family and friends, all of whom were convinced Richard had invented something special. They urged him to pitch the spice to the plant’s CEO and amazingly, the boss listened and invited him to make a demonstration.

Montañez and his wife sped to the public library to check out a book on marketing. Montañez packaged his red-topped Cheetos in sample bags, bought the first tie he had ever owned, and prepared for his greatest chance to leave menial labor behind forever.

Fast forward to 2013 and Montanez is the executive vice president of multicultural sales and community activation for PepsiCo North America, a position Richard rose to after Frito-Lay mentored and promoted him so he could learn to effectively market his own invention.

According to the Star, Montanez gave a speech at a Kansas City Westin on Tuesday about how his “Ph.D” – poor, hungry, and determined – propelled a man without a college degree or high school diploma to immense success.

Montañez has met several U.S. presidents, spoken at the United Nations and currently teaches leadership to MBA students at a California university.

Montañez was the keynote speaker at the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s annual Power of Diversity event. This year, three Kansas City-based companies, Ecco Select, Swope Community Enterprises and Sprint Corp., were hailed as “champions of diversity.”

This is yet another appropriate title for Montañez, who has helped KFC and Taco Bell more effectively promote their Hispanic products and reach Hispanic audiences.

“If you’re leading a company and you don’t have diversity, you don’t have inclusion. I don’t know how you’re going to survive,” Montañez told about 300 people at the event. “I don’t know how you got this far.”

Montanez’s speech not only discussed how he went from mopping floors to riding corporate jets, but also how those who feel discouraged due to their race and economic situation can do the same.

“My disqualifications are the very things that qualified me,” he said, addressing the confidence and willpower of young minorities.

“Your own people will hold you back,” he warned them. “Break ranks. That’s diversity and inclusion. Don’t just hang out with your own.”

Montañez recalled being made fun of as a kid for eating burritos when everyone else ate regular sandwiches. When he asked his mother to make him a bologna sandwich so he could fit in, she said “no, this is who you are” and instead made him a second burrito to share with curious classmates.

By the end of that week, the Star reports, Montañez was selling burritos for 25 cents.

“Maybe I wasn’t created to fit in. Maybe I was created to stand out,” Montañez said. My greatness is courage. I’m willing to take a chance.”

His main message was that “there’s no such thing as ‘just a janitor’ if you ‘act like an owner.’”

Diversity and inclusion programs can open doors, he said, but “if you have confidence, you can walk into any room. … Your job is to prepare yourself to walk through the doors.”

Via: Kansas City Star, Top Photo Courtesy: Survivorlist Boards

Sean Levinson

Sean Levinson

Staff Writer

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