One revelation led to a revolution of spicy Cheetos

Richard Montañez gives an inspirational speech about his 'Rags to Riches' life story, and how he invented Flamin' Hot Cheetos, at the Kansas State University Student Union in Manhattan, Kan. on Nov.13, 2017. (Photo by Cooper Kinley | Collegian Media Group)

The creator of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Richard Montanez, spoke in the Kansas State Student Union Ballroom on Monday evening to teach students that one small idea can lead to big change.

“One revelation will lead to a revolution,” Montanez said.

For Montanez, his revelation began as a student.

“Sometimes in order to find your future, you’ve gotta go back to your past,” Montanez said.

One Wednesday at school, Montanez opened his lunch to eat the burrito his mother had packed for him when he realized other students were staring at him. Montanez walked home that day and asked his mother to pack a bologna sandwich and a cupcake in his lunch so he wouldn’t be “different” from the other students.

The next day, Montanez’s mother sent him to school with two burritos: “one for him and one to make a friend.” By Friday, he was selling burritos for 25 cents each, leading to his first revelation.

“As much as I wanted to fit in, I wasn’t created to fit in,” Montanez said. “I was created to stand out.”

Montanez’s next revelation led to the creation of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

After spending years picking grapes for a living like many of his family members, Montanez was hired as a janitor at Frito-Lay. The company began to lose money, and the CEO was searching for new ideas to increase revenue. The CEO gave all employees “permission to act like an owner” of the company. While many of his coworkers brushed the message off, it caught Montanez’s attention.

“Don’t ever be such an expert that you can’t see the other things that people can’t see,” Montanez said.

Where others saw stacks of chips, Montanez saw spices. Montanez brought undusted Cheetos home from work, and he and his wife dusted them with spices. He then passed out the spiced chips to friends and co-workers, who loved the idea, Montanez said.

Montanez then approached the CEO to set up a sales pitch. He and his wife had two weeks to prepare, reading about business presentations to strategize and developing answers to every possible question. Montanez bought his first tie for $3.

“There is always somebody in a room trying to steal your destiny,” Montanez said. “Your job is to be ready and not allow it to happen.”

During the sales pitch, Montanez deflected any questions of his qualifications, citing a Ph.D. in being “poor, hungry and determined.”

“Sometimes in order to achieve your greatness, you have to be willing to look ridiculous,” Montanez said. “If you aren’t willing to look ridiculous, you will never achieve your greatness.”

Montanez now leads multicultural sales and promotions across the North American divisions of PepsiCo.

“Look how far I got without an education,” Montanez said. “Just imagine how far you can get with an education.”

Ellie Nicholson, senior in hospitality management, said she was inspired by Montanez’s story and his passion.

“It was never just about the money or a job,” Nicholson said. “I liked his hunger and willingness to pursue his passion.”

Deanna Durler, freshman in business, said she agreed and hopes to be more aware of the revelations in her life.

“Revelations are always there; I just have to see them,” Durler said.