The origin of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is a valuable lesson for the Senior Living industry.

By Steve Moran

Are You In the Business of Selling Hope?

Several years ago I gave a speech titled “We Are in the Business of Selling Hope.” My proposition was when senior living is done right it provides hope to residents, family members and team members. I continue to believe that when senior living is done right this is true.

It is an idea that warms my “for profit”-oriented heart because it is the single best way to ensure a great bottom line — happy team members and peace and goodwill for all.

Flamin’ Hot Cheetos

A few days ago Kandi Short who makes things run day to day at Senior Housing Forum sent me a link to a story at Inc Online titled “How a Mexican Janitor Invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos”. The article tells the story of how Richard Montañez grew up in a grape-picking immigrant family in Southern California. He had trouble learning English and dropped out of high school.  

His big ambition was to drive a trash truck but instead he ended up as a janitor in a Frito-Lay plant that made Cheetos. He might have stayed a janitor forever except that the president of the company sent out one of those “cheesy” inspirational videos that inspired him to “think like an owner.”  

One day while sweeping floors one of the Cheeto machines that put the yellow Cheeto powder on malfunctioned and some of the Cheetos didn’t get turned orange. He took some of these naked Cheetos home and sprinkled them with chili powder and thus was born Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

And as a result of inventing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos that one-time janitor is now the executive vice president of multicultural sales and community activation for PepsiCo’s North American division.

Building Up Teams

There are at least three huge leadership lessons in this story.

  1. Inspiration Works  —  It is easy to think that working to be inspiring is just sort of a cheesy thing that is almost even embarrassing. I am realistic to accept that it is not for every employee but it has more power than may be obvious on the surface.

  2. There Are Hidden Ambitions  —  It is easy to think and perhaps even accurate to think that most team members will be more or less content with their lot in life. But there are some, likely more than we think, who with the right level of hope and encouragement will make big and little significant improvements in their life and the lives of their families.

  3. Opportunity is Important  —  Most team members will take little or no advantage of growth opportunities . . . maybe, but some will. Providing there is opportunity to grow and progress as far and high as they want to and are capable of doing.   

We have this great opportunity to provide hope, and more so for our team members than even our residents.