Four Words That Changed the Fate of a Janitor
On an early morning in the late 1980s, a group of the highest-powered executives at Frito-Lay — the CEO, CMO, and a platoon of VPs — gathered in a California conference room to hear what Richard Montanez had to say.
Montanez had a brilliant idea to launch a new product that would become America’s most celebrated snack in history. But before that, he had to convince a plethora of executives at PepsiCo.
Here he was, a fourth standard dropout explaining his idea to some of the World’s top-notch executives.
Montanez belonged to a Latino family. Before starting at Frito-Lay, he worked many other labor jobs as picking grapes at the farm, butchering, and washing people’s cars.
No one at his family had any type of formal education. He enrolled at the school, but eventually dropped out in the fourth standard.
While he was 18, he landed a job as a janitor at the Frito-Lay facility in California. He did not know how to write well at that point, so he asked his wife to complete his application form. Frito-Lay accepted his application and offered him $4 per hour, double of what he earned at the farm.
In the 1980s, Frito-Lay was going through tough times. In a bid to improve the status of the company, Frito-Lay appointed Roger Enrico as their new CEO.
In a move to encourage all the workers at the company, Roger sent out a video message. The video had some very encouraging and powerful words. These words had the power to change lives:
Act Like an Owner
These four words struck Montanez’s heart.
While everyone else brushed them off as a management cliche, Montanez thought about it. He did not have a clear image of what he would do, but he was going to act like an owner of the company.
From that moment onwards, he wanted to know how his company worked. If he was to act like an owner, he must know how his company functions. He requested a salesman if he could come along for a day. The salesman agreed While on a visit, Montanez was stacking chips in a departmental store. While going through all the products, he noticed that there was not a single product catering to the needs of anyone who loved spices, particularly Latinos. The whole market of Latinos was going unaddressed.
While on a visit, Montanez was stacking chips in a departmental store. While going through all the products, he noticed that there was not a single product catering to the needs of anyone who loved spices, particularly Latinos. The entire market of Latinos was going unaddressed.
Now he knew that a spicy food snack is missing in the markets, and he needs to do something to bring it up. But the major problem was how he could do it.
That evening after returning from the visit with the salesman. Montanez was sitting on his porch, having a corn with seasonings over it. Usually, the Corn vendor would sprinkle a mix of spices and apply it on the corn stick.
While having the corn, he had a perfect product for the markets in his hands.
As Montanez says, “It was the moment I had a revelation. The corn tasted just like a Cheeto. Why not add spices to the Cheetos”.
The next day, he went to the factory and brought home a pack full of un-dusted Cheetos. He had the zeal to create something that would help him revolutionize the American snack industry. Montanez prepared a spicy mix with the help of his wife and mixed the Cheetos with the spices.
He served the new snack to his family members and neighbors, everyone loved it. It would be an absolute hit.
“It was an absolute favorite Richard you got to call the CEO,” exclaimed his wife. Montanez took the company phone book and dialed in the CEO’s office. The Executive secretary put him through to the CEO Roger Enrico. After listening to Richard’s ideas, Roger fixed a date two weeks from that day he was going to be in California and listen to Richard Montanez.
That response from the CEO surprised Richard. He never expected such a calm and assuring response from the CEO.
You Never call the CEO.
He committed a mistake.
He broke the protocol and called directly to the CEO.
As soon as he hung up the phone, an array of calls started. This act frustrated the administration, and everyone was finding a man named Richard Montanez.
No matter what room you are in, there is always a person trying to steal your deal.
The very next day, the plant manager lashed out at Richard for directly calling the CEO. He was not credible to do that. As an act of vengeance, the plant manager ordered Richard to handle the presentation on his own.
This news shook Richard to the roots. He had never done homework all by himself, how would he prepare a presentation in the time-span of two weeks. Afraid and disappointed, he went home to his wife and explained the situation.
His wife handled the situation with a calm mind and suggested visiting a library. Very next moment, they were in the library and going through marketing books. Both took some inspiration from the books and copied 3–5 paragraphs on the transparent paper for the presentation.
The day of the presentation arrived, and Richard enters the room with PepsiCo’s top executives waiting to listen to him. He recalls, “I was so damned nervous.”
He enters the room, full of wit, with his 100 bags full of sample Cheetos and the presentation papers.
Richard begins with his presentation, and everything was going well; until when one of the marketing executives poses a question.
What market share are we talking about here?
A very simple question, but it froze Richard Montanez for a second. No one told him about questions. It was not there in the books.
“What is Market Share, I have never heard anything about it. I stood blank in front of the most powerful people at my company.”
But a moment changed all of it. The thought of leading a better life and getting out of poverty, it was always there. These thoughts let him change his fate. His mind raced to find the solutions to the problem.
Suddenly, all his fear vanished and brought a gigantic smile to his face.
He suddenly extended both his arms sideways, depicting the size of a store rack and said the four golden words,
Gentlemen, This much Market Share
His statement might have shocked all the marketing executives in the room, but one visionary man knew the potential of the product. The CEO, Roger Enrico got up, and mimicking the actions of Richard supported his statements.
It took about six months from the presentation to get the first test samples out in the markets.
Frito-Lay named the spicy version of the Cheetos as Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and launched in the Californian markets. It was one of the biggest product launches in the history of Frito-Lay.
And the rest as they say is history.
Today Frito-Lay offers a complete Flamin’ Hot line-up of products with everything ranging from Doritos to Popcorns. The Flamin’ Hot is not only a product, but has grown into a pop culture among the millennials.
The latest products of the Pop Cultutre brand are two celebrity
Flamin’ Hot line-up has a cult following with hundreds of thousands of fans across the World.
The product line is one of the best-selling product lines from PepsiCo. With the success of Flamin’ Hot line-up, Richard Montanez grew to the corporate highs he would have never imagined. Today Richard Montanez is the Vice President, Multicultural Marketing division at PepsiCo.
He visits Ivy League and other top institutes throughout the World as a motivational and Marketing Speaker.
Famous Director Eva Langoria and Fox Spotlight are producing a movie on the story behind the invention of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Sure this story has the potential to rocks the Box-Office.