By Arcelia Martin
February 2nd, 2023
Michael Avery is a memory of a man again. The name is no longer an alias as it was for years because its borrower ascended beyond homelessness and into entrepreneurial eminence.
He’s a co-chief executive officer of a tax resolution company with an office in Plano that ranks as an Inc. 5000 business. He feels like he’s made it and it’s time. The company’s 70-plus employees gather on a call, and he reintroduces himself by his birth name: “I’m Scott Curley, it’s nice to meet you guys.”
Curley was formerly incarcerated, spending 10 years in and out of prison for auto-theft, burglary and drug possession in the late 80s and early 2000s.
He adopted the alias because he didn’t want his past to derail the company’s potential, as both he and his business partner and childhood friend Brian Gordon saw FinishLine Tax Solutions as a chance to change course.
“I’m not ashamed,” Curley said to his staff a year-and-a-half ago on the company-wide call. “I’ve been trying to protect you and the company.”
FinishLine now ranks among the top 100 fastest-growing financial companies in the U.S., scaling its business into a shop generating more than $30 million a year in revenue since its founding six years ago.
In November 2016, Curley found himself homeless outside a bus station in Houston. Gordon had lost his job as vice president of a tax relief startup, had four kids and one on the way, and had invested thousands from the sale of his parents’ home into the initial stages of the company.
Gordon was introduced to the tax relief industry decades before through Curley, while working as a salesman. At the time, Curley was desperate for work and saw a listing in the Houston Chronicle. He figured the job would serve as a stepping stone to something else. But the work suited him.
The threat of losing everything and having a very short time to resolve it was a familiar environment for Curley and one he could navigate.
“That sense of urgency was already so profound,” Curley said. “So coupled with that, and my own ability, tenacity and salesmanship, it worked.”
Aware of Curley’s homelessness in 2016, Gordon asked Curley if he had it in him to try again, despite Gordon’s family’s hesitancy. Their longtime friendship was at the root of Gordon’s faith in taking on Curley as a business partner, Gordon said.
It propelled Curley into employment, as formerly incarcerated people often face obstacles finding stable work. Of the more than 50,000 people released from federal prisons in 2010, one-third found no employment for four years after their release, according to a 2022 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The report also showed that no more than 40% of the cohort was employed at any given time.
Curley and Gordon bought 10 tax leads for $200 each and Curley crowdsourced money to book a Super8 Motel room in Houston that would serve as his office.
FinishLine closed with $10,000 in sales after the first week. Curley and Gordon took the money to buy themselves another week at the Super8 and another $2,000 worth of leads. After three months, they were able to rent a small office space and hire a couple of sales representatives.
“It was all so unorthodox,” Curley said.
The first year, FinishLine ended with about $1 million in sales. They’ve doubled in sales nearly every year since.
FinishLine ranked 1,304 out of the 5,000 fastest-growing privately-held businesses in the U.S on Inc.’s 2022 list and the firm has more than 15,000 clients.
Curley’s background has presented challenges for the company. His criminal convictions bar him from receiving the type of licenses required by his staff, like becoming an enrolled agent. It also made the company vulnerable to online reviews that eventually recounted his record.
“We were so fragile,” Curley said of FinishLine in its first few years. ”Anything could have caused a big problem. Part of our problem was that Scott Curley had a felony and a criminal background.”
His adopted alias memorialized a childhood friend’s late father who cared for Curley when his family dealt with substance abuse and alcoholism. Avery was an exemplar of the type of person he wanted to become.
The firm’s success developed a confidence in the co-founder to take control of his life’s narrative and retire his alias.
‘It was so liberating,” Curley said. “I felt just such relief. I wanted Scott to own all of the good and all of the bad.”
Curley said when he told FinishLine’s staff his real name and story, he was surrounded by support and continues to be.
Curley’s memoir, Absolution: The Dark Path to Light, comes out mid-February. Now, he’s often scheduled to give talks on his life and career, including at prisons, where he frequently exchanges emails with the incarcerated men he meets.
“It’s inspiring and encouraging to others,” Gordon said. “You know, to say, ‘I turned my life around, and so can you.’ ”
In an email exchange last month, a man imprisoned at the H.H. Coffield Unit, less than two hours southeast of Dallas, said that many were upset they had missed Curley’s December visit, including one who had a copy of the Inc. magazine for him to sign.
“You’re such an inspiration to the guys, you make them believe they have shot,” the email said. “A guy came and said listening to you changed his whole outlook on life. He had never personally encountered a successful person who looks like him.”