There’s an expression, “out of the mouths of babes.” It basically points to the fact that children will use all the creativity and observation skills they have without the limitations we place on them as they grow up. What limitations are you placing on yourself with the title or job description that you have? How many times have you heard someone say “that’s not my job” as an excuse to let something slide? Fortunately Richard Montañez, an immigrant from Mexico, didn’t see those limitations.
Montañez happened to be the janitor at Frito-Lay, a job that many underestimate but one that we all are grateful for without knowing it. But Montañez had many other things going for him besides the fact that his grandfather told him “make sure that floor shines…and let them know that a Montañez mopped it.”
This is so impressive as some people complain that they have a job that they don’t like and so they don’t put their heart and soul into it. Instead of approaching each day with the attitude that they’re going to do an outstanding job and show the company how it’s done, they feel that their station in life is beneath them or just a stepping stone on their way up through the world.
But jobs and animals and vehicles and marriages and just about everything else tend to reward you based on how you treat them. If you have an older car and don’t do routine maintenance and don’t care that the tires are low you’re probably finding that it leaves you stranded on the side of the road more than you’d like.
However there are plenty of other people who use an older car as a daily driver, puttering down the street in a vehicle built years, or even decades ago. The difference is how that car is being treated.
Rather than taking good care of the job you have, even if it’s a stepping stone up the corporate ladder, people just treat the job like a whipping post. They show-up late, they turn in lackluster performance, they complain about Mondays and that they have to go to work on social media and then they wonder why they’re being treated poorly by that job that they treat poorly.
Montañez decided that he was going to be “the best janitor Frito-Lay had ever seen” and went about making his presence known. “Every time someone walked into a room, it would smell fresh,” he says. “I realized there’s no such thing as ‘just a janitor’ when you believe you’re going to be the best.”
Who wouldn’t love to have this individual on their team? Who wouldn’t do their best to hire him away and have him work at your company? Rather than the half-hearted job many people in his position are doing, Richard Montañez was showing them how it’s done. And he was getting noticed for all the right reasons.
Even more than getting noticed and having the company appreciate the job, he was able to whistle as he walked through the door and look forward to the job. Doing a great job makes you feel fantastic. At the end of the day, rather than feeling drained and disillusioned and dreading the following day, Richard Montañez looked forward to tomorrow. And the day after.
He also thought about his job when he wasn’t at his job. How could he do things better? How could he improve his performance and make a difference for Frito-Lay?
One day he was enjoying some elote, a Mexican “street corn” dusted with chili powder, salt, cotija, lime juice and cream fresca. It’s really good. And he noticed that his employer had no products for Latinos on the shelves of the little local bodega.
Since Montañez’ job had him on the clock late at night he scooped up some Cheetos that hadn’t been dusted in cheese powder and went about adding flavors his culture was more used to including chili powder and other spices. He shared some of his unique Cheetos with family and friends and they loved them.
Here’s where this story gets outstanding.
Since he liked the product he had made he just rang up the CEO of Frito-Lay. You see that same CEO, Roger Enrico, distributed a video to the company’s 300,000 employees telling them to “act like an owner.” So there was 26-year-old janitor Richard Montañez calling the CEO and pitching him on a new product.
This is the same Richard Montañez who couldn’t read or write. Who had snuck into the US to work as a farm worker. The same guy who had barely eeked through fourth grade before jumping aboard the trucks to work with his family in the fields.
And now he’s got an appointment with the CEO of Frito-Lay. It turns out that Roger Enrico was coming to the plant as it was so he would give Montañez’ customized Cheetos a try.
On one side of the table, highly educated muckety-mucks with suits and diplomas and beautiful houses and memberships at the right golf clubs. And, on the other side, the janitor. With customized Cheetos. And a $3 neck tie that his neighbor tied for him.
And they were a hit. When they put a test batch on store shelves, they flew off the shelves. And Montañez was a hero. And Cheetos Flamin’ Hot were a hit. A big hit.
That was then - now Montañez is a vice president of Frito-Lay with more than 20 Cheetos products, each of which are worth $300 million.
The moral of the story is to always do your best. Never accept limitations defined by others and put your own style and passion into whatever you do. Because some ideas are just Flamin’ Hot.