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From Felon to Firm Owner: A Redemption Story

sunglasses and reflection

Scott Scarano is not your typical accounting firm owner.

With his hip-hop hats, silver chains, and rapper persona, he looks more like a SoundCloud artist than a buttoned-up businessman. Yet behind the unconventional facade lies the real story of an entrepreneur who found purpose in the unlikeliest places.

In his teens, Scott was set on making it big in the entertainment and music industry. Then, he made some regrettable choices selling drugs in college. He was arrested and kicked out of college. His entertainment dreams were crushed, and the future looked bleak.

After cleaning up his act, Scott rebuilt his life using street smarts and hustle to work his way up at a small tax practice. Over time, he was able to purchase the firm and scale it into a profitable, million-dollar business.

As told to me on the Earmark Podcast, Scott’s story proves accounting can provide purpose, community, and fulfillment for those from non-traditional backgrounds. With grit, innovation, and the right mindset, even someone with a checkered past can pivot to redemption and success.

Drugs and Recklessness

As a bright student and a born hustler, like any suburban kid in the early 2000s, Scott had dreams of hip-hop glory.

He was sure he would make it big someday and live the flashy lifestyle he idolized in music videos. So when he got accepted to UNC Chapel Hill, it seemed like his dreams were finally coming true.

Scott started as a business accounting major and even made the Dean’s List his freshman year. But not long after Scott got caught up in Chapel Hill’s fraternity scene. He began seeing dealing as an easy way to make money and live out his rap fantasies.

In Scott’s mind, selling weed and pills to other students was normalized party behavior, no different than underage drinking or smoking joints. “I thought I was doing stuff that everybody else would be doing anyway,” he reflects.

But Scott’s “fantasy world” soon came crashing down. Police busted a drug ring associated with his operation. Scott got arrested and charged with felony distribution, ending his college rap dreams in handcuffs.

He hit rock bottom as his family’s shame and disappointment washed over. However, the hardest part was yet to come.

The Road to Redemption

Getting arrested was a rude awakening for Scott.

When the handcuffs went on, he realized dealing drugs was a dead-end street. When UNC kicked him out, Scott resolved to clean up his act and turn his life around.

However, starting over wasn’t easy. As part of his probation, Scott received a suspended sentence and had to spend 40 days and nights in the county jail. He waited tables to pay for attorney fees and college tuition. Scott felt like an outsider on campus and in accounting classes, haunted by the shame of his arrest.

It took every ounce of Scott’s willpower to persist. He almost quit many times. But fueled by a desire to prove people wrong, Scott blocked out the noise and eventually finished his accounting degree.

Soon, he was hustling for any accounting job that would take a chance on someone with his background. Scott leveraged his sales skills to land an entry-level role at a local tax firm.

Sometimes, You Get More Than One Chance

A local tax preparer was looking to retire in five years. His small practice was generating around $90,000 annually working by himself.

He offered Scott a job with the chance to buy the business eventually. He wanted someone to take over day-to-day operations so he could relax into semi-retirement. It was a perfect fit for Scott’s entrepreneurial ambitions.

Scott eagerly accepted the opportunity and immersed himself in the practice. He marketed the firm through emerging online channels and implemented new cloud-based tools like Xero and Gusto to streamline work.

Scott realized that the skills he had learned “in the streets” also applied to a tax prep business. He employed tactics like three-tier pricing strategies to boost profits. As Scott explains, “I learned a lot about people in sales. I started doing menu pricing. Three options. I learned that from when I was doing options for different grades of drugs.”

Within five years, Scott grew the annual revenue from $90,000 to $500,000. When the time came, he purchased the practice from the owner through a seller-financed deal. In his early 30s,, Scott owned an accounting firm.

Scott transformed his life in just a few short years through persistence, smarts, and grit. The vulnerable ex-con became a successful young entrepreneur with a bright future. For Scott, this was just the beginning.

Operating and Innovating a Firm

In the years after buying the firm, Scott hit a plateau. No matter how hard he worked, he struggled to grow annual revenue past $1.2 million.

Scott admits, “I didn’t really know how to manage people.” Excessive work hours and high employee turnover resulted. He was working 80-hour weeks yet hitting a ceiling.

Eventually, Scott had an epiphany – he was the bottleneck holding the business back. His need to control everything and micromanage his team prevented the firm from scaling. He became determined to step back and build an organization that could thrive without him.

Scott implemented the Entrepreneurial Operating System to empower his team and build clear accountability. He forced himself to stop doing hands-on production, which was initially difficult. Scott also transitioned the company to a fully remote model, a pioneering move at the time.

Inspired by deep work concepts, Scott revolutionized workplace communication at his firm. He replaced frenzied Slack channels with structured “office hours” for focused collaboration. Calendar-blocking and time budgets enabled uninterrupted deep work.

By getting out of his team’s way, Scott enabled them to flourish and operate at their highest level. His firm transformed into a self-running growth machine approaching $2 million in revenue.

This newfound freedom to step away allowed Scott to pursue his passion for rap.

Takeaways for Accounting Entrepreneurs

Scott Scarano’s extraordinary journey reveals how accounting can change lives. His path from drug dealer to successful firm owner seemed improbable. However, through hard work, smarts, and an open mindset, Scott found redemption and meaning in an unlikely place.

Scott’s nontraditional origin story highlights the future potential of the accounting profession. His firm succeeded mainly because of the diverse experiences and “street smarts” Scott brought to the table. As the accounting profession becomes more inclusive, it should embrace owners from all walks of life.

Now, Scott is working to help others succeed, too. Scott created Accounting High, a community for accountants who want to move the industry forward and “get real about the nuances of practice management.”

On his Accounting High podcast, Scott shares lessons for those from non-traditional backgrounds who aspire to own an accounting firm someday.

Wherever your passions lie, Scott’s inspirational journey shows that you can find purpose, community, and belonging through accounting entrepreneurship.

Blake Oliver, CPA, is the founder and CEO of Earmark and co-host of The Accounting Podcast, the No.1 podcast for accountants and bookkeepers.

One thought on “From Felon to Firm Owner: A Redemption Story

  1. Just took a look at the “Accounting High” website. Oooff.

    *Verbal Meme*

    Steve Buscemi standing there in a backwards hat with a skateboard slung over his back shoulder

    “How do you do, fellow kids?”

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