A 4th Grade Drop Out Invented Flamin' Hot Cheetos While Mopping Floors


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Richard Montanez was a dropout he could

barely read or write in English and

mopped floors for a living but that

changed when he stood up to America's

top executives when pitching a

billion-dollar idea the son of Mexican


Richard was raised in Gua Ste California

during the 60s with wasti being a tiny

farming town

he lived in a one-bedroom apartment with

his mother father grandfather and 10

siblings they all rolled up their

sleeves and picked up rapes for a living

but it wasn't enough to get by my whole

life was about leftovers and about

donating about getting in that welfare

line no one ever told me that I could be

something great it was one of the many

struggles that he faced one day

Richard's mother was getting him ready

for school when he burst into tears

why are you crying she asked I don't

want to go to school everybody speaks

English I can't even speak a word he

pleaded his mother didn't give in and

made him go as his uncle walked him to

the bus stop he looked up to the green

bus and asked why can't I get on the

yellow bus why do I have to get on the

green bus he didn't know what

discrimination was but he could feel it

from the stairs in the third grade he

brought a burrito to school for lunch

his classmates had never seen one before

and wouldn't stop looking embarrassed

Richard hid it in his bag the next day

he begged his mother to make him a

bologna sandwich instead she made him

two burritos one for him and one to

share with a friend by the end of the

week his mother's burritos were so

popular that he started selling them I

learned that at the moment that there

was something special about being

different that there was a reason that

we all just couldn't fit into the same

box while he started to warm up to the

other students he still struggled with

his English so in the fourth grade he

made a decision that he would regret he

dropped out of school

under the sweltering heat he worked in

the fields and took on odd jobs

slaughtering chickens washing cars and

picking weeds he saw no way out of his

life of poverty until his friend told

him about a job opening down the road in

Rancho Cucamonga a frito-lay plant was

looking for a janitor they were willing

to pay more than what Richard was making

$4 an hour it would pave the way for a

better life with insurance benefits and

social mobility at the time

Richard was 18 and could barely read or

write in English so he asked his wife to

help him fill out an application he met

with the hiring manager and was hired on

the spot when he broke the news to his

family his grandfather gave him some

advice that would always stick with him

make sure that the floor shines and let

them know that a Montanez mopped it

Richard promised to become the best

janitor frito-lay

had ever seen and he made sure people

knew it every time someone walked into

the room it would smell fresh I realized

there's no such thing as just a janitor

when you believe you're going to be the

best as they say your attitude

determines your altitude and that turned

out to be true for Richard in the

mid-1980s frito-lay had fallen on tough

times to boost morale the company CEO

Roger and Rico encouraged every worker

to act like an owner

most of them brushed it off as a cliche

but Richard took it to heart I didn't

know what I was going to do didn't need

to but I knew I was going to act like an

owner after mopping floors for nearly a

decade he gathered the courage to ask a

salesman if he could help him on his day

off the salesmen agreed and brought him

to a convenience store in the Latino

neighborhood while the salesman

restocked inventory

Richard scanned the shelves across the

room I saw our products on the shelves

and they were all plain Lay's Fritos

ruffles and right next to these chips

happen to be Mexican spices at that

moment he realized that frito-lay didn't

have any products that were spicy or hot

it was a huge missed opportunity for the

Latino market a few weeks later Richard

picked up some Mexican corn from a

street vendor as he took a bite he had a

revelation what if I put chili on a

cheeto he thought it would be a crazy

idea but realized nobody had given any

thought to the Latino market it was then

that Richard decided it was time to act

like an owner one night he was working

late when a machine broke in the

assembly line leaving a batch of

undusted Cheetos

Richard considered it a stroke of luck

and took some home he and his wife

spiced them up and nailed down a recipe

when they gave samples to their family

and friends

they were hope so Richard decided to

turn his idea into a product that others

could enjoy but first he would need to

get one person's attention Frito Lays

CEO he grabbed the company phone book

and started flipping through the pages

until he found his number without


Richard called it his assistant picked

up mr. and Rico's office who is this

Richard Montanez what division are you

with California you're the VP overseeing

California no I work at the Rancho

Cucamonga plan oh so you're the VP of

Operations no I I work inside the plant

you're the plant manager no I'm the

janitor the assistant pause one moment

she finally said Richard was connected

with the CEO and told him about his idea

he loved it and told Roger that he would

be at the plant in two weeks moments

after they hung up the phone lines

started ringing off the hook

the president called the division

president who called the vice president

who made more calls to reach the plant

manager they were all demanding to know

who was this janitor that just called

the CEO when the plant manager found

Richard he stormed up to him and yelled

who do you think you are do you realize

what you've done

everybody's coming then he told Richard

you're doing a presentation Richard

thought to himself who do I think I am

what right do I have to call the CEO he

had never done homework in school and

now he had to give a presentation he was

clueless about what he should do next

when he went home that day he told his

wife he was in trouble she calmed him

down and came up with the idea of going

to the library to learn about marketing

strategies they found the right book and

copied the first five paragraphs

word-for-word when they went back home

they filled up a hundred bags for their

samples and drew their own design on

each one on the day of Richard's

presentation he bought his first $3 tie

as he gathered his bags his wife stopped

him at the door don't forget who you are

she said go get or belongs to us when

Richard walked into the boardroom

himself here I was a janitor presenting

to some of the most highly qualified

executives in America he delivered his

presentation with confidence until one

executive stopped him how much market

share do you think you can get he asked

Richard start shaking he had no idea

what he was talking about but then he

quickly thought about the last time he

doubted himself and the lesson he

learned in the third grade on every

Tuesday - after school trainers would

pull up one of them was for the Latino

kids when it came time to stand in line

Richard purposely walked into the other

one you should have heard my friend

looking at me because Loco you're in the

wrong line this is your line this is

where they told us to get in and I

looked at my friends this is the truth I

said this they have cookies inside as he

got closer he second-guessed his

decision what if he got rejected even

worse what if the trainer's told him he

doesn't belong when I got there what do

you think those two ladies did they

filled my pockets with cookies why did I

get in that line I was hungry when

you're hungry for that thing you want to

accomplish you won't be afraid taking in

that lesson

Richard stretched his arms wide and said

how much market share the room fell

silent as the CEO stood up ladies and

gentlemen do you realize we have an

opportunity to go after this much market

share he said with a smile he turned to

Richard put that mop away you're coming

with us

six months later frito-lay started

testing Richards idea in small Latino

markets in East LA if it was a success

they would sell more if it failed

Richard would have to go back to mopping

floors it seemed that there was a big

group of executives who wanted it to

fail they thought I got lucky

they were paid big bucks to come up with

these ideas they didn't want some

janitor to do it Richard proved them

wrong by 1992 his idea now known as

flamin hot cheetos was sold across the

u.s it became one of the most successful

products in frito-lay history making the

company billions of dollars today

Richard is PepsiCo's vice president of

multicultural sales and marketing and


ei classes not long ago a student asked

about how he was able to teach without a

PhD I do have a PhD he told them I've

been poor hungry and determined this is

the story of how a janitor created

America's favorite snack what did you

find inspiring let us know in the

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