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The Godfather of Hispanic Branding: Richard Monta??ez

If you go back in time before Flaming Hot Cheetos, no one was selling anything hot or flavorful. He changed that.

By Al Carlos Hernandez, Herald de Paris
Published on LatinoLA: June 20, 2014


The Godfather of Hispanic Branding: Richard Monta??ez


Richard Monta??ez had worked as a janitor at the Frito-Lay Rancho Cucamonga plant in California since 1976, but that all changed when he decided Cheetos needed an extra kick. Call it luck or a craving, but for Monta??ez it all began while eating a cup of corn. "I saw the corn man adding butter, cheese, and chili to the corn and thought what if I add chili to a Cheeto?"

It was an idea that would make him a legend.

So how would a janitor with zero-to-no English skills take a simple idea and turn it into a Flamin' Hot product? We'll find out soon, but since then, the Flamin' Hot line of products was born, including Flamin' Hot Cheetos - which is Frito-Lay's top selling snack.

Flamin' Hot Cheetos influenced the future of ethnic food products and the first Frito-Lay Hispanic marketing team. Monta??ez also helped influence Hispanic products and marketing promotions for KFC and Taco Bell.

Today, Monta??ez is the company's top Latino executive and leads Multicultural Sales & Community Promotions across PepsiCo's North American Divisions.

He lives in Rancho Cucamonga with his wife of more than 30 years, Judy Monta??ez. He is the father of three sons and has four grandchildren. Richard travels the world as a motivational speaker, has been invited to the White House on many occasions and is quickly becoming one of the most vocal and inspirational Latino leaders in the country. He chronicles the details of his life in his autobiographical book, "A Boy, A Burrito and A Cookie, from Janitor to Executive."

Monta??ez says, "Latinos who have made it, like myself, have a responsibility to open doors to younger generations and teach them that they can do it." Richard has been giving back to his community every day by providing college scholarships to young Latinos, as well as food, clothing, school supplies and other services to people in need as a part of his Kits for Kids and Feed the Children organizations.

He went on to say that, "Leaders have the unique ability to maximize the minimum and get the most out of the least. Some people live for a statement while others live as a statement. Don't limit your possibilities to the visible. Don't listen only for the audible. Don't be controlled by the logical. Believe there is more to life than meets the eye".

His philosophy is rooted in the belief that, "All young children test as geniuses in almost every way. But over the years, the slow accumulation of self-doubt, shame and resistance convinces us that we are less than our true selves. Very often geniuses are so advanced that the society of their day rejects their ideas; their status of genius is usually confirmed by future generations. A genius is just someone who sees what other can't. Chances are you are a genius with world-changing ideas waiting to come out."

He reminds people, "Keep in mind that as a genius, many times your ideas maybe taken as ridiculous".

Based on his life experience he articulates, "The difference between successful leaders and those who are not is not in ability, but in mentality. Nothing outside of you is bigger than what is inside of you. Here's a secret: it's the invisible that produces the visible, all things are created first in the mind. What you plan in your mind is the invisible producing the visible. No one is born successful‘«™but we are all born to succeed. Never let anyone mislead you into thinking that being born into a certain zip code determines your success. Wherever you were born is part of your destiny and success.

He is a favored motivational speaker nationally among the youth and uses historical allegories to get his point across; "Young Leader listen‘«™I believe leadership comes down to two approaches: Pharaoh or a Deliverer."

A Pharaoh is one who takes captives and holds them by force. Their style is "serve me first," and they make it impossible for any of their people to experience growth. A Deliverer is one who brings a message of freedom and growth to all who can hear. Their strategy is to serve others first in the hopes they will experience growth.

In its truest expression, leadership is fundamentally about going first, and influencing others as much by one's actions as by one's words. From this perspective, effective leadership can be viewed as the ability to involve others in the process of accomplishing a goal within some larger system or environment. Leadership takes ordinary people and gives them power to do extraordinary things. What matters most is not what you do but how you do it.

There have been many defining moments in the lives of great human beings that changed their lives forever. These defining moments often set the course for the balance of their lives. There can be more than one, each pointing you down a path of purpose and success. Listen, the secret of a great life is often a person's ability to discern the defining moments given to him/her, understanding them, and learning to walk in the path that leads to your ultimate destination.

"My disqualifications are the very things that qualified me." I know that may sound like a negative declaration. Yet within it resides a powerful diversity truth. Sometimes the very thing that others think is a negative turns out to be a positive. Sometimes other people believe your difference hinders your ability to contribute. Often, that very difference provides you special insight to see something that others overlook".

"It really doesn't matter where you... start, or even how you start. What matters is that you start".

Herald De Paris' Deputy Managing Editor Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez has been communicating with Richard over the last few months amidst his rigorous traveling schedule; we finally made this global interview happen.

AC: Tell us about your book, how has the response been? Are you considering turning it into a film?

RM: The response has been really positive even without much advertising. I am blessed to see it doing exactly what I wanted to do, which is inspire hope in people from all walks of life. There is a great deal of talk about making it into a movie. I am just taking my time and making sure everything is right. I am in a good position and in no hurry, if it does not happen that's OK. But I do believe with the right team it would be a great movie only because there is something for everyone and the story is not held to one person. The story of survival is something everyone can relate to, the fact is I never felt like a victim. I think sometimes too many of our leaders hold us back because they continue to tell us how victimized we are. In a strange way it's their way of staying relevant as leaders. They tend to scare people into following them.

AC: Isn't there a Chapter in your book that addresses this issue?

RM: There is a chapter in my book where I speak directly to leaders and as a leader; I really feel I have the right. In the book I discuss that there are two types of leaders, Pharaoh or Deliverer.

A Pharaoh is one who takes people captive for his purpose, "build my legacy and serve me." Then, there is the Deliverer who leads people to their purpose; he or she sets people free to become what they were intended to be.

I am a firm believer in the Church but I can see we have way too many Pharaohs leading the Church.

In Corporate America, I see more deliverer- leaders who are setting free their team members to be all they were intended to be. A big change happening here.

AC: Speaking of Corporate America, What are some of the other 12 products you have developed? Do you have a team of developers working with you?

RM: When I first started working, my idea, (You have to keep in mind it was during a time in Corporate America when leadership was based on Command and Control). America had not yet understood what empowerment was.

I am proud of my Hot Cheeto idea, but what I am really proud of is the fact that my idea, and how I did it, changed the climate in Corporate America.

CEOS and Executives began to look at front line workers as more of an asset than in the past. If you go back in time before Flaming Hot Cheetos, no one was selling anything hot or flavorful. Back then it really was a bold statement. So in realty the products that followed where all influenced in one way or another by Hot Cheetos.

CEO's began to empower their front line work forces with more freedom to share ideas. I really believe that is how my CEO and I, and a few other leaders really changed corporate America. I know many people might have a hard time believing that, but I remember how it was then, and how different things are now.

I also love to believe the Hot Cheetos broke many cultural boundaries. Before Hot Cheetos hit the market, everyone pretty much ate their own food. Hot Cheetos opened doors to try other foods; people began to place hot sauces on everything.

I have a secret that most don't know. The truth is my passion for hot Cheetos was in my heart. I thought if people could try what I like as a Latino, then maybe they would appreciate me and my culture. Food is a major asset in crossing the cultural bridges.

I love to believe that every one of us is given at least one idea a revelation that will revolutionize your life and the industry you work for.

AC: What is your job title and responsibility? What do you do when you are not on the road speaking? Is your primary job now Public Relations?

RM: My job title is what I feel it needs to be. I am not a fan of titles since sometimes people believe it's a title that makes a person, but we all know it's the person that makes the title. In my 37 year career at PepsiCo I have had just about every title and position you can name. From operations to marketing and sales. You can say I have been a rookie for 37 years since I took positions I knew nothing about. But I know who I am, and no longer fear failure, I thank God I have never failed in any of my assignments.

Well the truth is there are two titles that where given to me by two large media organizations and I admit I love it, The Godfather of Hispanic branding and one of the top 5 most influential Latinos in Corporate America. I love Godfather, because I am, when it comes to Latino branding, I was first and did it when no one else could or would.

My ideas have been billion dollar ideas and as the Godfather it is part of my responsibility to help nurture and raise other leaders, this doesn't mean I am the smartest; I am just the one that opens doors for others.

AC: You are recognized as one of the Latino leaders in the Country how does that feel?

RM: Being recognized as one of the most influential leaders is hard to explain. I know many people have a hard time with the title since they believe it should go to someone who has the right pedigree and go with the traditionalist view America has created. The expectation is usually, go to Harvard get a degree and become what the country tells you to become, in order to attain a national leadership responsibility.

Don't misunderstand me I am a firm believer in education and wish I had one and to prove that I care, we have been instrumental in developing and funding thousands of scholarships throughout the country. I am just saying if you can get it great, and if you can't, it is still ok, with hard work, heart and focus you will make it.

Currently, I lead our Corporate Latino agenda (because I wanted it) which includes marketing and sales across the country and leading key markets, making sure we have the right promotions.

AC: How do you spend your time when you are not on the road?

RM: When I am not on the road I love to spend time with my family especially my grandkids. I take a great deal of time mentoring all 5 of them helping them understands their dreams.

AC: Tell us about the times you visited the White House? Which other dignitaries have you met with?

RM: I have been to the White House several times over the last 25 years. Keep in mind invitations from the White House to an educated Latino from the barrio can lead to some interesting situations. These stories will be in my next book, these true life experiences are pretty funny and at the same time scary.

The one visit that means a great deal to me is when the Pope visited the White House I think back in 2007? What I remember from that is walking through and seeing the hundreds of thousands of people lining the street's in the hopes of just getting a glimpse of the Pope.

At that moment I realized more that people just need hope. I left the White House with a mission of creating hope to all I would come in contact with.

I have had many opportunities to work with Government legislators across the country in the areas of education, health and wellness and economic development. But I won't mention their names as it may look like an endorsement. In 2003 I had the great privilege to speak at the United Nations building during a special session.

Again pretty interesting, the boy from the hood[. I did have a California Government appointment back sometime during 2007 ‘«Ű 2010 not sure if these dates are correct but within this time frame. I thought it was pretty cool to have an official high level government appointment.

AC: Has there been any negativity directed towards you, because of your continuing successes?

RM: A great deal of negativity has come my way. It did bother me in the beginning stages of my success. There were many intelligent people who could not understand how the janitor or someone who never went to school could achieve such great success; with that in mind it was hard.

One has to remember, I am from the barrio and during the 60's and 70's it was dangerous, not as bad as today, but what was worse back then was our education level. Very few of us had degrees so there was never much mentoring or models for us. They were there, but only a few.

Mentoring for us was simply being told to be a hard worker. There were so many times I made a fool of myself looking ridiculous, then a revelation came to me, that many times greatness will come in a ridiculous way, the question is are you willing to look ridiculous to achieve your greatness. The Bible talks about sometimes God uses the foolish to confound the wise.

I also found a freedom the day we began to give back to communities. Giving became a sense of being; this frame of mind helped me find out why I became successful. I have this saying that God can get it to you, the problem is can he get it through you? My attitude is, that my purpose and success was God's purpose for my life, and it did not matter any longer what people thought.

I just tell people if you don't like what I do take it up with my Boss upstairs. The truth is, how can anyone really not like what you do, when it involves giving of yourself?

We all know what haters are.

AC: What is the hardest part of all this?

RM: The hardest part was the negative energy coming from those I worked with on the front line back when I was a line worker. I don't think they really hated my success, I believe it was more around their own insecurities. But I also took the time to take many of them with me and to share my success. I always say the next best thing to being successful is taking someone with you.

But to our young readers I would caution you, many times it's our own who hold us back and sometimes you just have to break ranks, and don't take it personal when they don't celebrate your success.

AC: Tell us about your foundation, what is your ultimate goal for your charity work?

RM: We have a family nonprofit called One Lite. We hold 4 to 5 events per year. We typically go into a low income area and for a day serve the community. About 3000 to 5000 people show up. We give every child a brand new pair of shoes, every family gets a box of groceries, free haircuts, we feed everyone lunch, free brand new bikes and much more. It's our way of giving back. I believe that with success comes a responsibility to our communities. It's all run by family and a few friends no paid members. We fund completely out of our pockets, I believe if you can do it, why wait?

AC: You have had huge successes up to this point, what are some of the things you are doing now and plan to do in the future?

RM: I love being a mentor to established leaders and leaders just starting out. The few of the mentors I have had were a large impact on my life, some of whom were business mentors and others spiritual mentors. I see there is a need for people to mentor our young adults. We need People to step forward who understand what mentorships really is.

AC: Don't you speak about mentoring in your book?

RM: Here what I said in my book about mentoring. I realize that a mentor is more than a coach.

There is a legend about a Greek general Odysseus who was being sent to fight in the Trojan War. He was not sure he would return and was concerned about the welfare and raising of his son Telemachus. Legend has it that the general asked his trusted friend if he would watch over his son, His friend responded with these words: "I will teach and raise him as my own son." The name of the general's friend‘«™Mentor.

This is where the word "mentor" originated. It originated from Greek mythology. Mentor was the name of a wise and faithful advisor of Odysseus (or Ulysses as the Romans called him).

According to mythology, through Mentor's guidance, Telemachus became an effective and beloved ruler. Mentoring is a fundamental part of development where one person invests time, energy, and personal know-how in assisting the growth and ability of another person. Mentor's job was not to merely raise Telemachus, but to develop him for the responsibilities he was to assume in his lifetime.

Now listen to this: A strategic mentor is someone who can bring the unique combination of wisdom, science, craft and skill together and apply it throughout an organization, I know that many of you, who will read this, are strategic mentors‘«™whether it's at work, play or home, you mentor. We win because of you. Mentoring is one of the best methods of encouraging human growth and potential‘«™and it goes beyond coaching.

Listen: stay away from those who discourage you, hang out with those who encourage you. Mentors can see in you what you can't see in yourself and help bring it out. Each of us has the potential to be great, not necessarily famous, but great, because greatness comes by serving.

In simple terms, mentoring is investing in someone the same way a parent invests in their own child. Mentors can see the invisible in order to achieve the impossible. Every accomplishment large or small starts with a decision. Choice, not chance, determines your destiny!

AC: What are some of your hobbies, which bands do you like to listen to? If you were not a Corporate Executive what would be your ideal job?

RM:: Someday I would also like to establish a leadership institute using my principles as the foundation. I love going to the gym I work out hard with weights, but need to do more cardio. I have a few hobbies, one is trimming trees. I have many large trees that I personally trim, and I love to call myself a tree designer. I also enjoy producing music. We have a small recording studio and I take old hits and remake them just for fun. We have some great songs with great talent. I love all music from big bands to oldies and pop.

Growing up in a time with 33 LPs and 45's we had no remote control or record changers, so for my dad and uncles and aunts, I was the remote control. I believe it's why I love all music grew up hearing it all. I also collect ties and have the world's largest personal Versace tie collection.

Someday I would love to be a talk show host, a show about highlighting inspirational people across the country, not just the rich or people doing great community work. Instead I would enjoy highlighting those who carry our most precious assets like our children riding on the school buses. What are the stories on bus drivers or the firemen who just show up when you need them? The teacher that shows up every day regardless of their pay or how about the guy that never misses picking up our trash on trash day. I enjoy being with people from all lines of work. I have a friend who drives a bus and she brings so much positive energy wherever she goes. Every city I visit I use the same driver and we are friends .

AC: In the end when it is all said and done, how would you like history to remember you, what would you like your legacy to be?

RM: I want my legacy to be remembered as an extravagant giver, and being extravagant is not always an amount, it's an act of kindness. That he took from his personal wealth every year cashed in his stock option and took care of kids. I once heard God speak to me these words "Richard take care of my kids and I will take care of your kids "‘«™.He has done a better job!

Edited by: Mariam Salarian

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