By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley)– The inaugural Career Symposium on Jan. 24 at Cal State San Bernardino, which offered breakout sessions, networking opportunities and a fashion show for the campus community, featured keynote speaker and inventor of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Richard Montañez, who gave an inspiring speech about his invention and how he was able to move from janitor to executive.
“My story is about diversity, it’s about innovation, it’s about imagination,” he said. “All you need is one revelation to create a revolution. You got to be the type of leader that can see the things that others can’t see … That’s how it started for me.”
Montañez, who dropped out of school at an early age and grew up picking grapes in a migrant labor camp in Southern California with Mexican immigrant parents and ten siblings, was working at a Frito-Lay plant as a janitor when he came up with the idea of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
One day on the job, Montañez said the CEO of the company sent a videotape to employees, encouraging them all to “act like an owner.”
“I’m a janitor,” he thought, “I want to act like an owner … what does that mean? I don’t know what that is, but I want to do something different.” Montañez explained to the crowd that there was a burning desire in him to achieve more, and decided to take the CEO’s advice and “act like an owner.”
First, he decided to learn more about the company. On his day off, Montañez accompanied a salesman who unloaded product onto racks. When Montañez looked at the racks, that’s when it hit him – there were no spicy snacks.
“Don’t become such an expert that you can’t see things anymore,” Montañez said to the audience, noting that the idea was always around, just never realized by anyone who worked there. “I saw it … It was always there, but it took an uneducated Mexican to get to the revelation because my heart and my eyes were open!”
Still, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to create, until he was eating an elote one day, and while looking at his corn, he thought it sort of resembled a Cheeto. Enthused, he told his wife, Judy, about his idea, and together, they developed chili recipes with Cheetos that hadn’t been dusted with orange cheese.
After his friends and family expressed how much they enjoyed the new snack, Montañez, with the encouragement of his wife, decided to pitch the idea to the CEO, and was told to be ready to present his idea in two weeks.
He and his wife checked out books from the library on marketing and sales presentations, and made 100 bags filled with the hot Cheetos to give out during his presentation, which they sealed with a “plancha” (iron).
“The ingenuity and innovation of diversity – when you’re different, it’s not a bad thing, it’s a great thing!” he expressed.
Two weeks later, in his first tie that he bought for $3.50, Montañez, who admits to being incredibly nervous, presented his idea to company executives.
“In order to achieve your greatness, you have to be willing to look ridiculous,” he said. “If you’re not willing to look ridiculous, you will never achieve your greatness.”
And after that presentation, Montañez’ career took off, moving his way up the corporate ladder within PepsiCo to the executive level.
“You can’t wait for somebody to come and break a barrier for you,” he said. “If you’re waiting for that, it’s never going to happen – you have to break your own barriers.”
Today, Montañez is the executive vice president of multicultural sales and community activation for PepsiCo’s North American divisions. He also gives motivational speeches, presents to companies on the importance of diversity in businesses, and is the author of the book “A Boy, a Burrito, and a Cookie: From Janitor to Executive.”
Despite not having an education, Montañez has spoken at the United Nations, has coached some of the top CEOs in the world, and has even taught an MBA course.
“Look how far I got without an education – just imagine how far you can get with one!” he passionately expressed.
The crowd, which was made up of CSUSB students, faculty and staff, erupted in cheers.
“I love motivational speeches and to know that someone has really made it – someone from somewhere so small who has become so big – I think we all need to hear that to show that anything is possible,” said Alva Trejo, fourth-year communication major who attended the event. “I feel like if we want something, we can achieve it – that it’s within us.”
“When you are hungry for something different, hunger is the antidote to fear,” Montañez said. “Be hungry and you’ll never be afraid. Be hungry for that degree, and nothing will stop you. Be hungry to start that business, and fear will leave … I was hungry for more … hungry for success … I was hungry to change my community. I was hungry to change the legacy of the Montañez family.”
To keep up with Montañez, follow his Instagram account, @hotcheetosrpm.