‘The opportunities are there’

‘The opportunities are there’

Certified Public Accountant

Sally Fox, 58

The Swanson Group

869 Main St., Suite 1000, Westbrook


When she first entered college, Sally Fox thought she wanted to become a math teacher. But because she enjoyed her high school bookkeeping class, she decided to pursue accounting.

“I was one of two women in my original class when I switched to accounting,” said Fox, who graduated with a bachelor of science degree in accounting from the University of Maine in 1977. “I think perhaps women might have been discouraged about going into that field. I think women have found it’s a very good career. My understanding is that there are actually more women than men (in accounting) now.”

Her interest in math blossomed as a child.

“I played math games with my father, and I’ve just always like math in school,” she said. “I wanted to do something related to it. Accounting has really worked out well for me.”

For more than 30 years, Fox has been operating her private accounting practice in Westbrook, Keirstead & Fox, P.A., on Church Street with her husband, Dwight Keirstead, also a CPA.

On May 18, the Westbrook-based accounting firm, the Swanson Group, acquired Keirstead & Fox. Fox and her team, which includes Jean Wilhemsen, a longtime nonprofit auditor, have joined the Swanson Group’s owner, Tabitha Swanson, CPA, in the historic Edwards Block building in Westbrook. Keirstead is retiring.

According to a press release from the Swanson Group, its staff will increase from four to seven as a result of the acquisition.

The Swanson Group is a full-service accounting firm that provides a wide range of audit and tax services to businesses and individuals. Keirstead & Fox has also offered a range of services to its clients through the years, including accounting, tax, and audit and consulting services for nonprofit organizations, businesses and individuals.

Fox is a member of the American Institute of CPAs and the Maine Society of CPAs. She and her husband live in Westbrook with their dog, Oreo.

She said what’s most rewarding about being a certified public accountant is meeting and interacting with her clients.

“I help them and see their businesses grow,” said Fox.

Fox spoke with Maine Women about how she got into accounting, and shared her optimism about women entering the STEM fields.

Q: What inspired you to become a CPA? How did you get to where you are?

A: In 1984 I received my Certified Public Accountant designation from Maine. I had completed my MBA in marketing from the University of New Hampshire Plymouth State in 1980 and my bachelor of science degree in accounting in the spring of 1977. I started in private accounting, working for Wettereau Inc., a wholesaler for IGA Foods, in the accounting department. I was hired by the Keene, N.H., location and then transferred to the Portland location when Wettereau bought out Milliken Tomlinson. I wanted to come back to Maine to be closer to family as my daughter was 6 months old. I became the second salaried woman at the Portland location when I transferred there.

After receiving a degree in accounting and working in private accounting for six years I decided I that I would take a review course and sit for the exam. I felt that going into public accounting would allow me more flexibility with my family in the long run. The review course was great; I sat for the exam and passed it, and then had the opportunity to go work for Ernst & Whinney in the tax department. I worked there for a year but then left, as my partner was in the process of buying out an accounting practice in Westbrook. I joined him and helped him grow Keirstead & Fox, P.A. for 30 years.

I enjoy working with people and helping them with their accounting and tax needs. It’s the people that I have met and worked with over the years that have made my job very rewarding. I look forward to continuing to work with a variety of individuals and businesses in the

nonprofit and for-profit arena.

Q: Has your gender created any barriers to pursue your career?

A: Not for me. I know for some women it probably has, but I really haven’t found it to be an issue. I was very fortunate in that I had parents that told me from the time I was little, “You can do anything you want to do.”

I’ve had a lot of strong support, and I think that has given me the confidence to do the things that I have wanted to do. I probably didn’t follow the traditional path. I was in private accounting, then went into public, and went with my partner to manage our own firm after a year. I went from an entry-level position to an owner.

Q: Are you optimistic about the future for women in STEM fields?

A: Yes, certainly. I think with the number of women who have gone into this field, I think the opportunities are there if you want to take advantage of them. I still have the attitude that I grew up with: if you want to do something, you will find a way to achieve it.

Sally Fox, former principal of Keirstead & Fox, P.A. in Westbrook, has been a Certified Public Account for more than 30 years. Westbrook-based the Swanson Group acquired Keirstead & Fox in May. Staff photo by Kayla J. Collins

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