The year 2020 most people would love to erase from the calendar. A worldwide pandemic caused shutdowns and premature deaths. Then there was our year-long contentious national election. Let’s end the year with a story that will bring a smile to your face and possibly a tear to your eye. While it recently came to my attention, it is not new so you may have heard the story. Regardless, it is well worth reading as we launch ourselves into a much brighter 2021.
It is about a poor Mexican American kid who grew up in a Southern California household with 14 family members. He struggled in school and had meager success learning English. He left formal education in the fourth grade and went to work at odd jobs and on farms for years. Then he had a chance to get a job that was a step up.
His wife had to fill out the application because of his weak English skills. He got a janitorial position and a big pay boost to $4 per hour (this was back in 1970s). His grandfather understood something I taught my children as young adults. No matter what job you are doing be the best at it. Be proud of the job you do. His grandfather told him “make sure that floor shines. And let them know a Montañez mopped it”.
Richard set off to become the best janitor the company ever had. When he wasn’t mopping and cleaning, he started to learn about the international company for which he worked. He learned about all the company’s products, how they manufactured and marketed them and other aspects of the company. He badgered salespeople to tag along and watch them sell.
A sales slump hit the company a decade after he started there. The world-famous CEO called on all 300,000 employees to “Act like an owner.” He empowered them and Richard took that to heart.
While riding along with a salesperson, Richard noticed there was a shortcoming with one of the major products of the company. It has some varieties, but none that really appealed to the burgeoning Hispanic population. While visiting a store in a Latino neighborhood, this product was placed next to Mexican spices on the rack, but none of those spices were used. He thought Mexicans like spicy and there were no spicy or hot options.
He went home with some of the product from the plant and started testing. He started putting a homemade chili powder on the product. He gave samples to friends and family who found it be a winner. The product was ready to present. Richard just had to get the nerve to make the call.
When he was ready, he called the CEO’s office.
“Mr. Enrico’s office, who is this?”
“Richard Montañez, In California.”
“You’re the VP overseeing California?
“No, I work at the Rancho Cucamonga plant.”
“Oh, so you’re the VP of ops?”
“No, I work inside the plant.”
“You’re the manager?”
“No, I’m the janitor.”
Mr. Enrico took the call. He loved the initiative. He instructed Richard to prepare a presentation and set a meeting two weeks hence when Enrico was planning a visit to the plant. Richard went about studying marketing.Then the day for the meeting came.
The janitor walked into the room with the head honcho together with his support team. After taking a deep breath he started telling the people what he had learned about the company and what he had been working on. He presented the bags with his product inside that he had sealed with a clothing iron and hand decorated with a logo on each.
When he finished his presentation the room fell silent. After a few moments the great Roger Enrico looked at him and said “Put that mop away, you are coming with us.”
From that meeting Frito-Lay birthed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. It became one of the company’s most successful product launches. It became a cultural sensation.
This article is reproduced by permission of the author. It first appeared in Flash Report December 30, 2020.
As we move through 2023 and into the next election cycle, The Prickly Pear will resume Take Action recommendations and information.