Henry W. Bloch is the co-founder and honorary chairman of the board of H&R Block, which he and his brother, Richard, founded in 1955.
The early years
Henry Bloch was born July 30, 1922, the second son of a prominent Kansas City lawyer. He attended Southwest High School, began his college career at the University of Kansas City – now the University of Missouri-Kansas City – and later transferred to the University of Michigan, from which he graduated in 1944.
Henry joined the Army Air Corps shortly after the United States entered World War II. Serving in the Eighth Air Force as a navigator on B-17 bombers, he flew 32 combat missions – three of them over Berlin. He was awarded the Air Medal and three Oak Leaf Clusters.
During the war, Henry and his brothers, Leon and Richard, began corresponding with each other about starting a family business, something that the boys’ parents had always encouraged. The Army Air Corps later sent Henry to Harvard Business School for graduate training in statistical control. While at Harvard, he read a transcript of a speech by Professor Sumner Schlicter, a noted authority on economics and labor relations. Big business and labor had many resources, Professor Schlicter explained, but comparable resources geared to meet the needs of small business did not exist. Henry and his brothers saw an entrepreneurial opportunity to fill this gap.
A dream becomes reality
In 1946, Henry and his brother Leon founded the United Business Company, starting the business with a $5,000 loan. The company offered bookkeeping and other services to small businesses. After a disappointing few months, Leon left the business to return to law school, although Henry persisted.
Later, as the company began to grow, Henry published a help wanted advertisement, seeking to hire an employee. His mother responded to the ad, and recommended that Henry hire his brother, Richard. The two brothers became partners.
United Business Company's primary focus was bookkeeping, with tax preparation offered as a courtesy to customers and friends. Shortly before the 1955 tax season, Richard and Henry decided to discontinue tax preparation services, which were not a significant source of revenue. But one of their clients offered what turned out to be pivotal counsel. John White, who worked in display advertising at The Kansas City Star, suggested that the company advertise their tax preparation service in the newspaper. After much discussion, John finally persuaded Richard and Henry to run the ad twice, late in January 1955.
On the Monday after the first ad ran in The Kansas City Star, Henry was visiting customers when he received an urgent message to call the office. He found himself talking to a breathless Richard, who exclaimed,
"Hank, get back here as quick as you can. We've got an office full of people!"
The ad had been published shortly after many people had received their W-2 forms, uncovered an overwhelming need for tax services. Additionally, in Kansas City, the Internal Revenue Service had just discontinued its practice of preparing tax returns at no charge to taxpayers. The brothers had uncovered an overwhelming and timely need for tax services.
H&R Block is born
In July 1955, Henry and Richard created a new company, replacing United Business Company with a new firm that specialized in income tax return preparation: H&R Block Inc.
They named the company "Block" because their family name, "Bloch," had always been difficult for people to pronounce and spell. "Block" was simpler and could be spelled phonetically. Within weeks, the company grossed more than $20,000 – nearly a third of the annual volume United Business Company had taken years to develop.
Success prompted Richard to suggest expanding the business to New York City, the next city the IRS had scheduled to discontinue its tax preparation services. Targeting locations as close as possible to IRS offices, H&R Block opened seven offices in 1956. In only its second year, the company more than tripled revenues to $65,000.
With alternating two-week schedules, Henry and Richard shared responsibilities for the New York offices. However, both had families and neither wanted to relocate to New York, so they eventually decided to sell the operations there. Two CPAs wanted to buy the New York business, but could not meet the asking price. Instead, the CPAs agreed to pay the Blochs $10,000, along with royalties. The H&R Block franchise network was born.
In January 1957, H&R Block opened franchise offices in Columbia, Missouri and Topeka, Kansas. A year later, the company opened franchise offices in Des Moines, Iowa, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Little Rock, Arkansas.
By 1962, the company had 206 offices and nearly $800,000 in revenues. In that year, H&R Block became a public company with a $300,000 offering of 75,000 shares ($4 per share).
Setting the pace for the future
In the 1970s, H&R Block built a national brand by offering professional services for a mass market. The company established a national presence, increasing the number of tax offices to more than 8,600. Its combined annual growth rate in number of clients served was a slow but steady 2.7 percent; the company's network of tax offices increased 99 percent.
In 1972, Henry Bloch first appeared in the television commercials that helped build H&R Block into one of the most widely recognized brands in American business. Henry's personal integrity along with his simple and direct Midwestern style personified the company's sincere commitment to clients. He continued to appear in H&R Block's television ads for more than 20 years.
By 1978, H&R Block offices prepared more than one out of every nine tax returns filed in the United States. With that growth came the challenge of hiring enough qualified tax professionals. The company created H&R Block Income Tax Schools to fill the need.
The company faced another challenge in 1978: Richard Bloch, the chairman of the company, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and he had three months to live. Richard refused to accept this bleak prognosis. He participated in two years of intensive therapy and defeated the disease. In 1980, he dedicated his life to helping others fight cancer. In 1982, he sold his interest in the company, resigned his position as chairman and dedicated his time to supporting cancer research and education.
Richard Bloch, at left, with Henry Bloch, in 1982
Working with the IRS and Sears in 1986, H&R Block took a leadership role in the pilot of electronic filing. That year, the company filed 22,000 returns electronically from two sites: Cincinnati and Phoenix. The test was a success. Electronic filing decreased the number of filing errors, and moreover, significantly reduced the amount of time required for a taxpayer to receive a refund.
In 1989, Henry became chairman of the board, filling a position that had been vacant since his brother, Richard, left the business in 1982. He retired as chairman in 2000, when he assumed the title of chairman emeritus
A legacy of leadership, commitment
In addition to building a successful business, Henry is widely known as a civic leader and philanthropist who has dedicated a lifetime of work to building a stronger community and improving the quality of life in his hometown of Kansas City.
"I've always wanted to do something different, something more than just a job, something to contribute to society," Henry once said.
Since his retirement from H&R Block, Henry has worked daily on his many philanthropic endeavors in Kansas City, including the Henry W. Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Saint Luke’s Hospital, The H & R Block Foundation, and the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation, which Henry and his late wife, Marion, established in 2011 to continue their philanthropic legacy. The Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation builds on the couple’s vision and values to improve the quality of life in Greater Kansas City through thoughtful, innovative and responsible philanthropy.