Henry W. Bloch, co-founder of H&R Block, once said, “I always wanted to do something different, something more than just a job, something to contribute to society.” Bloch received an honorary doctor of humanities degree in 2014.
From Mr. Bloch’s heroic service in World War II, to growing a family-owned local company into an international brand and franchising icon, to his incredible philanthropy and service to his native Kansas City, Missouri, he has far exceeded that goal.
Mr. Bloch was born in Kansas City in 1922. His college education was interrupted when he 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 31 combat missions over Germany, three of them over Berlin, and was awarded the Air Medal and three Oak Leaf Clusters.
He eventually graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree from the University of Michigan in 1944, and the Army Air Corps sent Mr. Bloch to the Harvard Business School for graduate training in statistical control. At Harvard, he read a speech that opened his eyes to an entrepreneurial opportunity: providing support and resources to small businesses.
In 1946, Mr. Bloch and his brother Leon — with the help of a $5,000 loan — founded United Business Company, which offered administrative services such as bookkeeping and income tax preparation to small businesses in Kansas City.
Leon left the business, but brother Richard eventually joined it. Shortly before the 1955 tax season, Richard and Henry decided to discontinue tax preparation services, which were not a significant source of revenue.
One of their clients, however, offered what turned out to be momentous counsel. The client, who worked in display advertising at The Kansas City Star, suggested that they advertise their tax preparation service.
Building a multinational business
The ad, which was published shortly after many people had received their W-2 forms, uncovered an overwhelming need for tax services. In Kansas City, the Internal Revenue Service had just discontinued its practice of preparing tax returns at no charge to taxpayers.
The morning after the first ad ran, the Bloch brothers’ small, second-story office was jam-packed with people.
Based on the overwhelming public response, they decided to create a new company focusing solely on income tax preparation — thus, the commercial tax preparation industry was born.
Within weeks, the company grossed more than $20,000 — nearly a third of the annual volume United Business Company had taken years to develop. They changed the company name to H&R Block, using their initials and deliberately misspelling their last name to avoid pronunciation errors.
Over the course of more than 50 years, H&R Block grew to become the world’s largest tax service provider, with a vast web of more than 11,000 retail locations and 100,000 tax professionals serving more than 20 million clients a year.
In 1989, Mr. Bloch became chairman of the board. He retired as chairman in 2000, when he assumed the title of honorary chairman.
Encouraging growth in Kansas City
Mr. Bloch is widely known as a businessman, civic leader and philanthropist who has worked to improve the quality of life in his hometown of Kansas City.
He and his late wife of 62 years, Marion, made lifetime commitments of support to the Henry W. Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City, among other organizations.
In 2011, they established the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation to build on their vision of improving the quality of life in Greater Kansas City.
The Foundation supports efforts in such areas as post-secondary business and entrepreneurship education, visual and performing arts, education for low-income and underserved youth, healthcare, social services, and Jewish community organizations.
“Kansas City has been very good to us,” Mr. Bloch said at the time. “If it weren’t for the taxpayers who embraced Dick’s and my tax preparation experiment, H&R Block wouldn’t have become what it is today. We owe a debt to Kansas City, and our hope is that through this foundation, we will help pay back that debt.”
Mr. Bloch has received numerous honors and recognitions, including the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Missouri Arts Council; Award of Distinction by the University of Missouri-Kansas City Foundation; Philanthropist of the Year by the Greater Kansas City Council on Philanthropy; Distinguished Citizen Award from the Boy Scouts of America; and seven honorary degrees.
Mr. Bloch lives in the Kansas City area. He has four children, 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.