When you are watching a movie and you see the people hacking computer networks, they are often the bad guys. Oftentimes they are attacking in order to receive some sort of payment or decode highly classified information to benefit themselves. But what if the good guys were the hackers? That’s exactly what Brother Chris Gerritz Oregon State ’06 does for a living: Hacking.
After graduating from high school in 2003, Gerritz enlisted in the Air Force where he worked in cyber security for just over three years. “I always had a niche for computer security; it intrigues me,” said Gerritz. As he was learning more about the trade, he was accepted into the Airman Scholarship & Commissioning Program in order to attend college and compete for the Air Force’s coveted pilot training program.
While enrolled at Oregon State, Gerritz’s friend invited him to check out Phi Psi. “I never thought about a fraternity. It took encouragement from an old high school friend and Ryan Robinson Ohio State ’98, the-then chapter advisor.” What Gerritz discovered was a chapter that was struggling. “My pledge class was only three people. The overall chapter had nine people living in this huge house.” Gerritz recalls the chapter not only struggling with membership but also with paying its accounts receivable.
Recruit and Retain
In the spring of his freshmen year, Gerritz traveled as a representative for Oregon Beta to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to attend the American Leadership Academy (ALA) and meet with Jerry Nelson UCLA ’48. While there, he realized the full value and meaning of being a part of a fraternity experience. “I knew there was something special about being a Phi Psi, but it didn’t hit me until I met Jerry and the other alums at the ALA. During my time in Cabo, we chatted about what it meant to be a Phi Psi, the values our organization instills in our members and how we can be of benefit to society.” By the end of the trip, Gerritz had new wisdom and inspiration to go back and help grow Oregon Beta.
Shortly after his return, Gerritz was unanimously voted to become the new chapter President. Gerritz, with help from Robinson and his pledge brothers, devised a plan to recruit and retain members to build the chapter back up. Recruiting began immediately but we had to show value to new recruits. “My pledge class serenaded one of the larger sororities in order to invite them to a 1-on-1 mixer event. But we got nervous when they stated they had 40+ women sign up for the event… we never told them we only had 12 members.” Chris came up with a plan to save the event, they invited all their most trusted friends and temporarily “deputized” them as Phi Psi’s for the event. “50 people showed up,” Gerritz said, “It was such a fun night. Some of the men who were invited loved the camaraderie they saw of the brotherhood and asked to officially join Phi Psi.” In the end, the spontaneous event boosted Oregon Beta’s chapter roster with 20 new people. By the end of Gerritz’s tenure, there were 38 new members.
When You Least Expect It
A pivotal point came when he least expected it in the fall of his junior year. “It was Dad’s weekend, and we were walking the campus. I needed to swing by the chapter house to grab my keys before we made our way to meet up with the others.” At the time, there were about a dozen people watching the game in the house. Gerritz noticed an odd smell that seemed off to him. “I asked the others if they smelled anything and most replied, ‘no.’” He checked the kitchen and then made his way to the basement to check on the gas boiler. He was greeted with a “train-like whistling and all gauges showing red” on the boiler. He knew immediately everyone was in danger. “I ran back upstairs and told everyone to ‘get out!’ I cleared the rooms and dialed 911. As I was making my way across the street to our evacuation point, the house exploded behind me.” The explosion was so loud that the 911 operators heard the explosion at their operations center. The house was unrecoverable.
The chapter began to search for new housing options. “Since the explosion happened in the middle of the term, there weren’t many options available to us. We rented out the little available apartments near campus that were open and made it happen.” The chapter continued to hold meetings wherever they could find a room big enough to host them. And while the chapter was making do with the few resources they had, alumni and the Phi Kappa Psi Foundation established a capital campaign to help rebuild the house. In 2010, although he would not get the chance to live there, Gerritz attended the dedication of the new chapter house, and it remains home to Oregon Beta today.
Finding His Path
After graduating from Oregon State with a degree in electrical engineering, Gerritz returned to the Air Force where he was commissioned as an officer and became a pilot. He took to the skies and got 90 flight hours under his belt before discovering he had an autoimmune disorder. “I had trouble pushing buttons, tying my shoes or turning knobs. Everything I once did with my hands was delayed.” Because of the disorder, Gerritz was grounded and assigned to a unit of wounded warriors in San Antonio, Texas for two years. Returning to his roots in computer science and cyber security, he began working with the premiere cyber unit until the Air Force medically retired him and transitioned him to the civilian corp. By the end of his watch, he was the Air Force’s chief of defensive counter cyber and was leading an elite 28-man team. “My job was to hunt down and remove attackers in our networks. If an attacker was trying to get information on our aircraft or security plans, it was my teams’ responsibility to intercept and remove them.”
Following retirement from service, Gerritz wanted to do something different in his life; he wanted to open a business. “I wanted to build a cyber security company where we could continue to hunt the bad guys. I began to read a bunch of books on entrepreneurship, built an investment deck and chatted with other fraternity brothers who I knew successfully started a business.” He returned to Brother Nelson for help. “He provided me with a list of people I could reach out to.” He hit dead ends. Everyone kept turning him down until Nelson encouraged him to start smaller, so that’s what he did. “I raised a little money from friends, family and Fraternity brothers. But the commitments weren’t enough to get my business off the ground.” Then one day, Nelson took a chance on Gerritz and gave him a loan for his first round of funding. “With Brother Nelson’s loan, I was able to get the business, Infocyte, up and running. Within six months of operation, I was able to secure a larger round of funding from a venture capital firm.” With the company funded and fully operational, he first repaid his debts to those who trusted in his venture including Brother Nelson.
Just shy of six years later in January 2022, Gerritz sold his 30-person company to Datto, a cybersecurity and data backup company, for over $43 million. “Part of my deal was I get to stay on for another three years where I will help run their security services team and product strategy.” As far what’s after that, Gerritz isn’t quite sure yet. “Once time gets closer, I’ll figure something out. What he does know is the value of the support and mentorship his brothers gave him. He recalled a charge he heard over and over from Brother Nelson. “When Jerry helped me with my company, there was a consistent message to ‘pay it forward’ should I find success.” Gerritz paid it forward this past Founders Day of Giving by offering a $25,000 matching gift to the Phi Psi Fund as well as $10,000 match to the Oregon Beta chapter. “I see it as my duty given how privileged I’ve been to have access to mentors like Brother Nelson.”