The Frito-Lay Janitor Who Invented Cheetos
Richard Montanez was a janitor who was making $4/hour at a Fortune 500 company. One day he walked into the company boardroom and sat opposite the CEO.
He sat there nervously and told the CEO “So I had an idea...” Years later, this idea became an iconic consumer brand and made him worth $20 million dollars.
Here’s how the meeting went:
Richard Montanez grew up in Cucamonga Valley, California sharing a one-room cinder block hut with 14 family members. Richard dreaded going to school, could barely speak english and would cry to his mother as she was getting him ready for school.
In class when all students were asked what they wanted to do, his peers would yell: Astronaut, Doctor, Race Car Driver, and etc. Richard had nothing to say. “There was no dream where I came from.”
Richard dropped out of school in the 4th grade and took odd jobs on farms, and factories to help make ends meet.
Years later in 1976, a neighbour let him know of a job opening for a factory janitor at the Frito-Lay plant down the road. The $4/hour was more money than he’d ever made in his life.
As Richard was getting ready for his first day at work, his father pulled him aside and told him: “Make sure that floor shines. And let them know that a Montanez mopped it.” Richard made it his mission to be the best janitor Frito-Lay had ever seen.
He spent his off-time learning about the company’s products. He studied manufacturing, marketing, and more. He even asked the salesman to tag along to watch them sell so he could learn more about the business.
In the mid 1980s, Fruit-Lay began to struggle. The CEO announced a new initiative to all of it’s 300,000 employees. “Act like an owner” to empower them to work more creatively and efficiently.
Then, he called the CEO.
“Mr. Enrico’s office. Who is this?”
“Richard Montañez, in California”
“You’re the VP overseeing CA?”
“No, I work at the Rancho Cucamonga plant.”
“Oh, so you’re the VP of Ops?”
“No, I work inside the plant.”
“You’re the manager?”
“No. I’m the janitor.”
The CEO got on the line and spoke to Richard. He loved his initiative and told him to prepare a presentation, and he set a meeting in 2 weeks time. Richard was stunned by this first turn around and ran to the library to pick up a book on marketing strategies to prep for his meeting.
2 weeks later, he entered the boardroom. After taking a moment to catch his breath, he started telling them what he learned about Frito-Lay and the idea he’d been working on.