Divija Vaish, a grade 11 student.
Here’s a remarkable, true story – of a man who made it from being a janitor (sweeper) in a company to its Vice President.
Richard Montañez, a Mexican living in California (in the United States), was a janitor at Frito-Lay – a food company that made chips. He eventually became the company’s Vice President.
Here’s how that happened
Richard was very poor and was looking for a job.
One afternoon, his neighbor told him that a janitor was required at the Frito-Lay plant. Richard quickly applied for the job, but he had to take his wife’s help in filling out the application because he couldn’t read or write. He didn’t let that stop him. He was determined to be the best janitor the company had ever seen.
He didn’t know this then – but his life was about to change irreversibly.
In between his shifts, he would roam around the factory, trying to learn as much as he could. During that time, Frito-Lay was going through a rough patch and their then-CEO, Roger Enrico, recorded a video message which was sent out to all the employees of the company. In the video, Roger motivated the employees by telling them to “act like an owner.” Unlike most of the employees, Richard took these words to heart very seriously.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do. Didn’t need to. But I knew I was going to act like an owner.”
So he gathered up his courage and asked a salesman if he could tag along with them to learn more about the production business. What he learned was that there were no snack products in the market that catered to Latino tastes. He saw Fritos, Lay’s, Ruffles on shelves, all of which were plain snacks. Then one day, while eating street corn coated in chilli powder, salt, lime juice, cotija, and crema fresca, he was struck with a brilliant idea. He decided to put chilli on an otherwise plain, regular Cheeto.
Richard rushed back home to try out his idea, and to his surprise and delight, his family loved it. All he had to do now was get the big guys to look at his invention. So he did the first thing he could think of: he called up the CEO. “I was naive,” Montañez later said. “I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to call the CEO… I didn’t know the rules.”
But the CEO was rather impressed with his ingenuity and courage. So much so that Richard was invited for a meeting with the top execs of the company. However, there was a small problem. He had to prepare a presentation, and he knew nothing about marketing and strategies. So he borrowed a book about it from the library and copied the first five pages. He didn’t even own a tie; he had to buy himself a $3 tie which the neighbor knotted for him. On the day of his presentation, his wife stopped him and said, “Don’t forget who you are.”
Montañez stepped into the boardroom. “Here I was,” he says, “a janitor presenting to some of the most highly qualified executives in America.”
During the presentation, someone asked him, “How much market share do you think you can get?”
“It hit me that I had no idea what he was talking about, or what I was doing,” Montañez recalled. “I was shaking, and I damn near wanted to pass out…[but] I opened my arms and I said, ‘This much market share!’ I didn’t even know how ridiculous that looked.”
The room went silent as the CEO stood up and smiled. “Ladies and gentlemen, do you realize we have an opportunity to go after this much market share?” he said, stretching out his arms.
That was the last day of Richard’s job as a janitor.
The journey from a boy with no dreams..
Richard Montañez grew up in Guasti, California, with his family- parents, grandfather, and eleven children- under the stifling sun of the Cucamonga Valley, where they would all pick grapes and earn enough to afford a one-room house.
He was the only Mexican in his all-white school. He didn’t get the same treatment and privileges as his classmates, nor did he understand his teachers very well, because he did not know English.
One day, when a teacher asked him what his dream job was, Montañez froze. “I realized I didn’t have a dream,” he says. “There was no dream where I came from.”
Richard dropped out of school and took up all sorts of jobs slaughtering chickens at a poultry factory, washing cars, and picking weeds. With a 4th-grade-level education and few economic opportunities, Montañez saw no path out of poverty.
..One of the most influential Hispanic men
(Hispanice relates to Spain or to Spanish-speaking countries, especially Central and South America.)
Today, Richard Montañaz is the Vice President of Multicultural Sales at PepsiCo, the parent company of Frito-Lay. He has been recognized as one of the most influential Hispanic people in America, and has been a keynote speaker on multiple occasions around the world. His story is being made into a biopic, which will hit the silver screen very soon.
Richard remains a humble, hard-working man who never forgets his true identity. He still lives in Rancho Cucamonga, where he gives back to his community through a nonprofit he launched and teaches MBA classes at a nearby college.
When asked how he was teaching without a Ph.D., he responded,“I do have a Ph.D. I’ve been poor, hungry, and determined.”