From janitor to VP: Richard Montanez of PepsiCo Inc. shares his unique story

Richard_editSliderOn Oct. 22 in Carlson Theatre, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Richard Montanez spoke to Bellevue College students with the goal to remind them that determination has no boundaries and to inspire students to be all that they can be. The event was put on by El Centro Latino in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Richard Montanez is best known for being the sales executive of PepsiCo Inc. and even more prominent to college students, being the man behind the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto. Montanez currently speaks at universities and has a family run charity organization called 1 Light as well.

Montanez grew up and went to school in California, but he dropped out at a very young age. Montanez told the audience at the lecture that even at a young age, he knew that he was different from all the other kids and  he didn’t like it. Montanez was not a white kid, so he had to ride a different bus to school.

“We were paraded around town in that green bus, to show that we weren’t good enough to ride the yellow bus!” Montanez said.

Another big part of why Montanez dropped out of school was because all the kids around him spoke English and he didn’t.

Montanez told a story about how one day at lunch, he pulled out his burrito from his lunch bag and noticed that all eyes were on him because he was eating something weird and different from the other kids.

“It was 1963, the world hadn’t seen a burrito! Contrary to popular belief, Taco Bell didn’t introduce the burrito, my mom and I did,” Montanez said.

Montanez stated that as he got a little older, he learned that, “None of us were created to fit in. We were created to stand out.”

While Montanez was working as a gardener, a friend helped him fill out an application for a position as sales executive at Frito-Lay. He needed help filling out and understanding the application because he could barely read and write at the time. When he turned the application in, he got hired on the spot as Frito-Lay’s janitor.

“There’s no [such] thing as JUST the janitor. I was THE janitor,” Montanez said.

From there, it only went uphill. One day, there was a company-wide message that was broadcasted by the CEO that simply instructed the employees to start acting like an owner. Montanez took it seriously.

He had the idea of putting chili powder on a Cheeto, so he did. He made some for his wife, her coworkers and

with his coworkers, and everyone loved it. From there, he called the CEO and the CEO loved his idea.

“Here I was, with an opportunity to start a revolution in my own life. When you’re hungry for something, fear won’t stop you,” said Montanez.

From there, Montanez has only become more and more successful.

“Just look how far I got without an education. Imagine how far you’ll get with one,” Montanez told the audience.

Montanez admitted that at 56 years old, he is looking more into working with his charity organization because it’s what he wants to do with the rest of his life. 1 Light, Montanez’ organization, goes into low-income neighborhood and feeds lunch to everyone. In addition to this, Montanez buys hundreds of shoes, backpacks and school supplies for kids and boxes upon boxes of groceries for  households.

Victoria Sifuentes, director of El Centro Latino, said, “We definitely want to invite him back. He has a very inspiring story that can appeal to any student here at Bellevue College.”

Hannah Murray, BC student, said, “I like how he portrayed to students what … we can  achieve. It was inspiring.”

For those interested in learning more about Montanez and his story, his book, “A Boy, a Burrito, and a Cookie,” is on sale.