In a little over a month, the Global Leadership Summit—a two-day conference billed as the “premier leadership event of the year”—will livestream to thousands of church and business leaders around the world.
The Summit, which was started by now-disgraced Willow Creek Community Church founder, Bill Hybels, has featured many high-profile celebrity guests, including Bono, President Bill Clinton, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. This year’s Summit features some big names too, like best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell and retired four-star Army General Stanley McChrystal. Yet also among the conference’s “world class” faculty is a speaker whose claim to fame—that he invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos—has seemingly been debunked.
The speaker, Richard Montañez, claims that while he was still a janitor, he took a batch of unflavored Cheetos home with him one day and seasoned them with Mexican spices. He then pitched Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to then-Frito-Lay CEO Roger Enrico. The product became a hit. And both Montañez and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos became cultural icons.
But according to an article published last month in the L.A. Times, Montañez’s story about inventing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is false.
“None of our records show that Richard was involved in any capacity in the Flamin’ Hot test market,” Frito-Lay wrote in a statement to The L.A. Times. “We have interviewed multiple personnel who were involved in the test market, and all of them indicate that Richard was not involved in any capacity in the test market.”
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The article also noted that by the time Roger Enrico became CEO at Frito-Lay, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos had already been in the test market for six months. Montañez also reportedly rose out of his janitorial position more than a decade prior to the introduction of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
Montañez, however, is disputing the L.A. Times report, claiming he was the company’s “greatest ambassador.” Also, following pressure from some in the Latino community, Frito-Lay parent company, PepsiCo, issued a statement, praising Montañez for creating “new product ideas” and affirming that his career with the company was “far from being an urban legend.”
Yet PepsiCo did not retract its earlier assertions debunking Montañez’s tie to the Flamin’ Hot line. Instead, it reiterated that the company cannot “draw a clear link” between Montañez’s team and the separate group that developed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
Despite these serious issues, the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) is sticking with the popular motivational speaker, who reportedly gets paid $10,000 to $50,000 per engagement. Montañez remains listed as a speaker for the Summit August 5-6, which will be livestreamed to 650 host sites and online.
GLS, however, has changed Montañez’s bio posted at its website.
An archived March 1, 2021, version of Montañez’ bio at the GLS website refers to Montañez as “Inventor of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos” and states: “While working at Frito-Lay as a janitor early in his career, Richard Montañez developed the ingenious idea for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos—now the Flamin’ Hot line is a billion-dollar business and cultural phenomenon.”
Montañez’s original bio at GLS Website:
The revised bio, however, refers to Montañez as the “Godfather of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.” And the line about Montañez creating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos while working as a janitor has been removed.
Montañez’s revised bio at GLS Website:
The Roys Report reached out to the Global Leadership Network, which hosts the Summit, on Monday for comment, but did not receive a response by time of publication.
Questions about upcoming biopic
The controversy about Montañez is also creating issues for the team producing a new biopic about Montañez’ life, called Flamin’ Hot, which was scheduled to begin filming this summer.
DeVon Franklin, whose faith-based blockbusters include Miracles from Heaven and Heaven is for Real, was slated to produce the film with Searchlight Pictures. Eva Longoria was announced as the film’s director.
Since the revelations about Montañez have published, there’s been very little talk about the film.
The Roys Report reached out to Creative Arts Agency, which represents Franklin, asking whether the film is still moving forward. Creative Arts Agency responded via email, stating, “Unfortunately, we do not have any information at this time.”
We also contacted Searchlight Pictures about the film but did not hear back.
A book about Montañez’s life called, Flamin’ Hot: The Incredible True Story of One Man’s Rise From Janitor to Top Executive, published on June 15. The book is still available in bookstores and on Amazon.
The Roys Report reached out to the publisher of Flamin’ Hot—Portfolio, a division of Penguin Books—for comment, but Portfolio did not respond.