Given the economic climate in recent years, it’s tempting to give in to the belief that it is next to impossible to achieve the American Dream. Therefore, it’s doubly heart-warming to see its recent realization in a true rags-to-riches story!
In a nutshell, this is the story of Richard Montanez, part of a poor Latino family living in America. He knew very little English and had never finished high school when he began working as a custodian at the Frito-Lay Rancho Cucamonga plant in California in 1976. One day he bought a cup of corn from a vendor and saw the vendor add butter, chili and cheese to the corn. This sparked an idea to add chili to one of his favorite snacks: Cheetos.
After playing with the ingredients, he created a recipe that he and his family, friends and co-workers loved! So, he decided to pitch the idea to company executives… and they loved it – sparking the creation of their now top-selling snack, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, as well as an entire line of Flamin’ Hot products!
Here are just some of the WOWs in this story:
- Montanez had a brainstorm and acted on it… something many of us think about doing but never actually do.
- He still spoke little to no English when he pitched this idea to executives. He copied a marketing concept from a book, designed his own bag and put his snack inside for the presentation – demonstrating incredible creativity and knowledge of human behavior in the process (he realized they’d need to see and taste the entire product or they probably wouldn’t “bite”!)
- The President and other executives were willing to listen to a pitch idea from someone in an entry level position.
- Once the idea caught on, Montanez was rewarded by being promoted, so that he now holds the position as head of Multicultural Sales & Community Promotions of North America divisions of PepsiCo, which is the parent company of Frito-Lay.
Many people think you have to have formal education in order to capitalize on a great idea; but this story proves that you can use self-education and exceptional drive to accomplish great things. In fact, Montanez says that he’s had a Ph.D. since he was a kid: Poor, Hungry, and Determined! And because of his success at getting education any way he can, most notably in this case through a marketing book, he now reads a book a week!
In addition, many employees resist sharing great ideas for fear of being ignored or disrespected, having their idea stolen by someone higher up, or receiving no thanks for having provided it. This story also proves that there are still executives who do value and reward employee contributions in WOW ways. KUDOS to company executives at both Frito-Lay and PepsiCo, who showed exceptional commitment to their employees by rewarding him in this fashion, rather than simply taking his idea, running with it, and leaving him behind with just a small “thank you.”
Please visit the links below for more of this incredible story including WOWs, such as:
- A corporate videotape (made by then company President Roger Enrico and his Vice President of Sales Al Carey) started Montanez thinking differently. Its message was this: “We want every worker in this company to act like an owner. Make a difference. You belong to this company, so make it better.” Most employees ignored it; Montanez ran with it!
- Montanez picked up the phone after creating his snack and called the President directly because he didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to do so! Thankfully, the President’s assistant was enough of a visionary to put him through!
- When he told his co-workers the President was coming in two weeks to see a presentation, they complained loudly about having to “clean up the plant” for the President’s visit!
- Montanez now works with PepsiCo and his community to create scholarships and other grant opportunities for Latinos to encourage them to get more education and contribute to their communities.