Richard Montañez: From Janitor to Vice President


It’s always a good to get a little inspiration, so this week we’re going to discuss Richard Montañez in the hopes that his story will show you that literally anything is possible. It’s pretty easy to lose sight of the big picture in the day-to-day of your working life and you might even have forgotten why you got into your line of work in the first place.

It happens. But it’s important to remember that you always have options and that there’s no reason why you can’t have the next 1 million dollar idea for your company.

So let’s talk about the story of Richard Montañez, the one time janitor at the Frito Lay factory who invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (it’s hard to remember a time when these didn’t exist). Rather than powering up their recruiting team and breaking out the executive search software, the powers that be promoted Richard Montañez to executive vice president of multicultural sales and community activation for PepsiCo North America did something a little different.

This Cinderella story of upward mobility all started back in 1976, with Montañez doing some off-the-clock experimentation with one of his favorite snacks. You guessed it – Cheetos. Inspired by the rave reviews from family and friends of his spicy Cheetos recipe, Montañez took a leap of faith and contacted the CEO of Frito Lay.

Amazingly, despite the fact that he was just a janitor without a high school education, the head honchos decided to give him a chance to pitch his product idea to upper management. After some feverish marketing research and the purchase of his first-ever $3 tie, Montañez and his wife prepared a presentation and made sample bags of his spicy snacks to aid him in making the most out of his big break.

Amazingly, the idea was a wild success from the moment that he pitched it to today (visit any convenience store and you’ll see those Flamin’ Hot Cheetos on the shelf). As the article said, “The corporate power structure that could have ignored him or co-opted his idea instead saw his potential, mentored and promoted him. He has now met U.S. presidents and spoken at the United Nations, and he serves on several boards. And he teaches leadership to MBA students at a California university.”

Was it just plain luck that gave Richard Montañez is big break? Maybe.

But he took his shot when the opportunity arose – and you should too. It’s a lesson in courage for the rest of us. If you have a great idea, the last thing you should do is sit on it. If you prove your potential and value to your employer, then there’s no reason to believe that you can’t transform your own career and break some barriers.

The story of Richard Montañez also provides some inspiration to organizational leaders.

Even the lowliest employee can made a difference, if given the opportunity. What if the CEO of Frito Lay had refused to see Montañez, or his secretary hadn’t let the call get through? It’s hard to imagine a world without Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, but even worse to imagine that Richard Montañez might not have reached his full potential and influenced thousands of young minorities in the bargain.


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