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Flamin hot

BUSINESS MATTERS (BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE) - Francis J. Kong (The Philippine Star) - February 27, 2021 - 12:00am

At the Hustle, Zachary Crockett from my favorite online news-commentary platform wrote a story about a Mexican immigrant son in Southern California. As a child growing up in the 1960s in Guasti, a farming community east of Los Angeles, Richard Montañez picked grapes with his entire family, including his grandfather.1 Montañez is just one of 14 members of the family that shared a one-room cinder block house in a migrant lab camp.

Montañez was not able to finish school. He dropped out in the fourth grade and took on a series of jobs. He can easily add to his resume his work experience of working at a slaughterhouse and washing cars. At age 18, Richard Montañez was hired as a janitor at a Frito-Lay plant in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He got the job by filling the application done by his wife as Montañez struggled to read and write. As a janitor, he was paid $4 an hour with benefits.

His work ethic was fantastic. Montañez recalls his grandfather telling him. “Make sure that floor shines and let them know that a Montañez mopped it.” Today motivational speakers would call this “Do your work with excellence and leave your signature on it.”

One day at work, an incident or an accident happened. A machine broke on the Cheetos assembly line and spat out a batch of plain Cheetos. Montañez took some of the products home, and he started tinkering around with them. He remembered grilled corn dressed with lime and chili powder sold by a local street vendor. An iteration to the Mexican corn treat called “Elote.” This product became so famous it has been developed into different versions in different places. I have had the pleasure of trying them out not in Mexico but a small Havana little resto in New York’s Soho district. It was an iteration of the same product, and the original Mexican “Elote” inspired Montañez to dust the plain Cheetos and wiped them with chili powder.

And just like most DIY experimentation on food development, Montañez tested the flavor with his family. And they liked it.

The next thing he did was pitch his product and idea to PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico over the phone. He did not even know that he was not supposed to do that, but somehow, the call went through. The CEO, a little bit surprised, entertained his call. Montañez was given two weeks to prepare a presentation to the executive suite. When the appointed time came, Montañez came to the meeting not just the innovated product he had but complete with a custom-designed packaging for his idea. Talk about initiative!

His idea sold! The company decided to invest in it. So what happens next is a beautiful; “fairy tale” story of the new flavor rejuvenating the brand and earned the company billions of dollars. “Flamin’ Hot” has become a central element in Cheetos marketing.

You are probably wondering what happened to Montañez?

Richard Montañez has a sense of humor. In an interview with the Washington Post, he says: “I have a Ph.D. of being poor, hungry and determined.” This poor, hungry, determined but hard-working, imaginative, and driven janitor was promoted and ended up working as a company executive promoted to VP post. The buzz is that Eva Longoria will direct the movie “Flamin’ Hot,” which would be the janitor’s story that created the billion-dollar business. Richard Montañez is now a bestselling author and motivational speaker. In the same interview with Washington Post, he says, “I realized there’s no such thing as ‘just a janitor’ when you believe you’re going to be the best.” He is a shining star now, and he started by following his grandfather’s advice: “Make sure that floor shines and let them know that a Montañez mopped it.”

(Connect with Francis Kong at www.facebook.com/franciskong2. Or listen to “Business Matters” Monday to Friday at 8:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. over 98.7 DZFE-FM ‘The Master’s Touch,’ the classical music station.)

1 https://www.newsweek.com/flamin-hot-cheeto-movie-true-story-creator-richard-montanez-1456377

RICHARD MONTAñEZ
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