How A Frito-Lay Janitor Rose To Corporate Executive

Pursued his version of the Ph.D: 'poor, hungry and determined'

Telemundo Arizona
Every once in a while the American Dream of a worker climbing the ladder to the top turns into a reality. One worker who can speak of such a life is Richard Montañez, who is currently the Executive Vice President of Multicultural Sales and Community Activation for Pepsico North America. The 55-year old, who was born in Mexico, didn't take a traditional route to the executive suite of corporate America. Montañez has never completed college, nor high school, though he now teaches leadership to MBA students at a California state university.

Not too shabby for an immigrant who started his American professional career as a janitor. How did he do it? Back in the 1970's, Montañez was working as a custodian for Frito-Lay's plant in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. And in his spare time he came up with a spicy recipe including chili powder for the company's famous Cheetos, thus creating Flamin' Hot Cheetos, according to a report by the Kansas City Star. He was able to get a meeting with the company CEO to pitch the idea, and nearly three decades later the line is consistently a best-selling brand at convenience stores throughout the country.

As the Kansas City Star also reported, Montañez spoke this past week to the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce's annual Power of Diversity event about his ascent. And he credited his success to his own personal version of the Ph.D. -- "poor, hungry and determined." Crucially, he said, he was able to rise because he always believed in his potential. "There's no such thing as 'just a janitor,'" he said during his address, "if you "act like an owner."

Montañez also said his entrepreneurial drive stretches back to his grade school days. Back when he was in elementary school he was initially ashamed of bringing burritos to school for lunch when all his classmates had bologna sandwiches, he said. But when his mother wouldn't allow him to change his lunch, and forced him to bring a second burrito to share with his classmates, he responded by launching a small business -- he began selling the burritos for 25 cents a piece, as the Kansas City Star piece reported.

That same spirit drove him to his current success, and in addition to a family with three children, Montañez can boast of meeting with U.S. presidents, speaking at the United Nations, and traveling across the world in corporate jets during his career, as the Daily Mail reported. Indeed, he's been recognized by Hispanic Lifestyle magazine as one of the most influential Hispanics in corporate America.

AOL Jobs regularly features such success stories. Of particular note is the story of Farrah Gray, who went from a childhood in the inner-city of Chicago to becoming a millionaire at the age of 14. How did he do it? A tireless entrepreneurial spirit, starting with selling rocks at the age of six to be used for doorstops and bookends. After the rocks, Gray moved onto homemade body lotions and eventually his bigger enterprises, which included prepaid phone cards. He's become known for his story, told in his book "Reallionaire," among other venues.

For his part, Montañez emphasized in his recent speech how important it is for business leaders to give workers of all backgrounds a chance. "If you're leading a company and you don't have diversity, you don't have inclusion. I don't know how you're going to survive," he said.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

I met Richard Montanez in his Rancho Cucamonga plant while I was as a Frito Lay technical specialist helped his plant to start up some production lines products like Flamin' Hot Cheetos, Baked Cheetos, flavored popcorn, Fritos and Doritos in the late years of 90' to early 2000'. Richard tittle was PMO (Packaging Machine Operator) at the that time.

A year before those times, my co-worker Judy and me working as a Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips (RSTC) and Fritos product lab technicians. I asked Judy for her RSTC Lime n Chili seasoning to season my Fritos product for market taste test. The taste test went well and was documented in my lab book. But did not follow up the product development due to my new manager and my position changed later.

A few years later, Richardson came up with same idea and won the first PepsiCo Share Power Award in Frito Lay headquarter in Plano, Texas.

Now, Richard is doing very well and I am unemployed after Frito Lay layoff in 2005. My life have been struggling ever since. So Richard Montanez is a real person and is a true story.

February 26 2014 at 12:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Arthur Avila

So proud of you uncle

December 10 2013 at 1:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You don't need that almighty college degree. You need to be a self-starter and go-getter. Good for him!

October 18 2013 at 7:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Nan's comment

This guy is impressive but he is an outlier. For most people, an education helps.

October 18 2013 at 10:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kelly's comment

that is true. and 'back in the day' one didn't NEED the college, but now it is as necessary as a high school diploma. 'back in the day' what he did was possible. now it isn't.

October 19 2013 at 10:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

I do not believe this story. Pepsico very rarely promotes anyone that does not have a college degree. Worked at Frito 7 years.

October 18 2013 at 7:23 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to bensmore33's comment
Renee Silvernail

Read again. He invented the "Flamin Hot Frito's" . That helped him get where he is today.

October 19 2013 at 10:49 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

did you work there in the 70's? maybe now they won't hire you but in those days, yeah, they would.

October 19 2013 at 10:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Peter Thiele fromMN

Absolutely what America is all about. Anyone can make it. If you don't think you can, it's because you don't believe you can. I cheer for all success stories. White, Black, Latino, and Asian, these are wonderful to hear. If you are not positive, look in the mirror at the person who needs to change. Go to a homeless shelter and help some people. Volunteer at an old folks home. Do something nice.

October 18 2013 at 7:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Peter Thiele fromMN's comment

Yeah! Actively fight against racism!!

October 23 2013 at 1:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brian Taylor

"Executive Vice President of Multicultural Sales and Community Activation".

What's next - Executive Vice President of Multiple Orgasms and Public Masturbation?

October 18 2013 at 7:07 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Brian Taylor's comment
Michael Craig

absolute bulls#$t. I worked for frito lay for almost 18 years before leaving to make beer. I never ever heard of this guy my entire career there. The plant I worked at won the award 3 years in a row for being the best and this guy was never even brought up. mexican sucess story .......hmmm what do you think the media is setting you up for this time???

October 18 2013 at 3:47 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Michael Craig's comment
Renee Silvernail

Then maybe you should pay better attention to what goes on around you. I called Frito Lay and asked if this was true, the answer was..... yes!!!!

October 19 2013 at 11:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is absolutely a lie! There are no corporate execs who weren't born with a silver spoon in their mouth, or didn't lie, cheat, and steal to get there.

October 18 2013 at 3:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to KnightTime's comment
Pamela Simone-Mccoin

You've never heard of the guy that runs McDonald's? He started out as a fry cook. Not exactly the silver spoon

October 18 2013 at 7:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Renee Silvernail

People who have no drive, and think the world owes them a living talk like you.

October 19 2013 at 11:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This has to be a false story. No where did it mention that he had a government program that helped him out. We all know that the only success one can achieve comes from government assistance. At least that's what the Dems keep telling us

October 18 2013 at 2:55 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to jimmyv2222's comment

Now who is lying, jimmy? I challenge you to find one Democrat who has said that government assistance is the only -- or even the best -- way to succeed. Your whole narrative is a lie. Get over it.

October 18 2013 at 11:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kelly's comment

really kelly? REALLY? THEY SAY IT ALL THE TIME!! just talk to your Ms. (cherokee) Warren.

October 19 2013 at 10:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

dems can say whatever they want, they are not the brightest crayons in any box.

October 19 2013 at 10:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

That fat broad making $8/hr at McDonald's will NOT be happy about this at all!

October 18 2013 at 2:39 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Search Articles

Picks From the Web