Richard Montañez, who began his career with Frito-Lay as a janitor in 1976 and later created Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, will speak at Fresno City College on Monday, Oct. 28.
Coming up with the idea for one of America’s most popular foods has brought Montañez considerable fame. In fact, his life will become a Fox Searchlight movie titled ‘Flamin’ Hot’ produced by Eva Longoria.
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But there’s more to his story.
Dropped Out of High School
Montañez, who was born in Mexico, grew up in southern California where he helped his family by picking grapes. But he struggled to learn English in high school and dropped out.
While working as a janitor at the Frito-Lay plant in Rancho Cucamonga, his future took a different shape after Frito-Lay’s president sent a video message exhorting employees to act like an owner.
“I looked around and didn’t see a lot of reaction from my co-workers, but for me, it was the opportunity to do something different,” Montañez recalled.
Presenting His Hot Idea
Before presenting his idea of adding chili powder to Cheetos to the company’s executives, he went to the library and borrowed a book on business strategies — and bought the first tie of his life for $3.
Montañez later developed the first Frito-Lay Hispanic marketing team that promoted items in KFC and Taco Bell.
That’s significant in light of Frito-Lay’s history. From 1967 to 1971, the company promoted its corn chips with a mascot, the Frito Bandito, that played on the “Mexican bandit” stereotype in Hollywood westerns.
Janitor to Corporate Leader and Philanthropist
Montañez worked his way up the corporate ladder to become Vice President of Multicultural Sales & Community Activation for PepsiCo Inc. North America.
Montañez is the founder of Onelite, a nonprofit that provides school supplies, shoes, and food to families.
In 2015, he became the first Latino board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference civil rights group. Montañez has been invited by the White House numerous times including for the welcoming of Pope Benedict XVI by President George W. Bush in 2008.
His talk will begin at noon in the Old Administration Building. Admission is free and a meet-and-greet will follow the main event. There will be relaxed parking in lots B, C, and D for the event.