To get into this story, we have to go back before Flamin’ Hot Cheetos existed.
We will give you a moment to get into that difficult headspace.
In the late 1980s, Richard Montañez was making $4 an hour as a janitor at Frito-Lay. He had an idea he believed could turn the struggling company around, so he walked into a Fortune 500 boardroom and pitched his idea to the CEO.
A janitor making $4/hour walked into a Fortune 500 company boardroom. Shaking, he took a seat opposite the CEO.— Ankith Harathi (@ankithharathi) December 22, 2020
"So I had an idea..." he nervously began.
Years later, that idea would become an iconic consumer brand and make him worth ~$20M.
Here's how that meeting went 🧶👇
But to get to the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos meeting, it’s important to understand how Montañez got here. A first-generation Mexican immigrant, Montañez grew up in California, living in a one-room cinderblock hut with 14 people.
2) When asked, all other students in class would eagerly shout out their dream job: Astronaut, Doctor, Racecar driver.— Ankith Harathi (@ankithharathi) December 22, 2020
Richard had nothing to say. “There was no dream where I came from.”
His schooling was short lived as well. Montañez dropped out in fourth grade and worked odds jobs, mostly on farms and factories. In 1976, he got the opportunity that would change his life: a janitorial role at Firto-Lay. The $4/hour pay was the most he had ever made.
On his first day, his grandfather offered this advice: “Make sure that floor shines. And let them know that a Montañez mopped it.”
4) As he was getting ready for his first day of work, his grandfather pulled him aside and said:— Ankith Harathi (@ankithharathi) December 22, 2020
“Make sure that floor shines. And let them know that a Montañez mopped it.” pic.twitter.com/qnKN84na2W
And Montañez was a dedicated employee. He put his all into his job, even going out of his way to learn about company products, manufacturing, marketing – basically, every aspect of a business.
The studying served him well. In the 1980s, Frito-Lay was struggling financially and the CEO thought to involve all 300,000 employees in overhauling the company.
6) In the mid-1980s Frito-Lay started to struggle. The CEO announced a new initiative to all 300,000 employees. “Act like an owner” Trying to empower them to work more creatively and efficiently.— Ankith Harathi (@ankithharathi) December 22, 2020
He pulled from his extracurricular experience at Frito-Lay, got some ideas together, and called the CEO directly.
8) The CEO got on the line. Loving the initiative, he told Richard to prepare a presentation, and he set a meeting in 2 weeks time.— Ankith Harathi (@ankithharathi) December 22, 2020
Stunned, Richard ran to the library and picked up a book on marketing strategies. Then, he started prepping.
He had two weeks to prepare, and boy did Montañez prepare.
He recognized a big hole: the company didn’t have any products catering to Latinx communities. He suggested Frito-Lay add a little spice to their product lineup.
10) “I saw there was no product catering to Latinos.”— Ankith Harathi (@ankithharathi) December 22, 2020
On the sales trips he shadowed he saw that in Latino neighborhoods Lays, Fritos, Ruffles, and Cheetos, were stocked right next to a shelf of Mexican spices. Frito-Lay had nothing spicy or hot.
He went further and brought out product samples he created. Inspired by Mexican street corn, also known as “elote,” Montañez created his own mix of spices and coated Cheetos with it.
12) He’d even sealed the bags with a clothing iron, and had hand drawn a logo on each one.— Ankith Harathi (@ankithharathi) December 22, 2020
The room went silent.
After a few moments, the CEO spoke, “Put that mop away, you’re coming with us”
Shortly after the meeting, plans for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were put in place. The launch was one of the most successful in Frito-Lay history.
13) Flamin’ Hot Cheetos became one of the most successful launches in Frito-Lay history. They went on to become a viral, pop-culture sensation.— Ankith Harathi (@ankithharathi) December 22, 2020
Richard became a VP and amassed a $20M fortune.
Not bad for a boy from Cucamonga. pic.twitter.com/DLUhCWQ9C5
Montañez became a vice president and is now worth $20 million.
Lead image: Screenshot WKNO/YouTube.