Henry W. Bloch Celebrates A Milestone Birthday

Kansas City, MO. July 24, 2012 – Henry W. Bloch, one of Kansas City’s brightest entrepreneurial and philanthropic stars, celebrates his 90th birthday on July 30, 2012 with a private party for family and friends at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Bloch, who along with his brother Richard founded the tax return preparation firm H&R Block, Inc., has long been and continues to be a champion of the Kansas City community.

“I’d be bored living a life of leisure,” said Bloch. “It’s important to feel useful.”

Born on July 30, 1922, Henry Bloch was the second of three sons of a middle-class family smack in the middle of the country. His father Leon, a prominent Kansas City lawyer and avid traveler, and his mother, Hortense, the consummate homebody, raised their three sons to be conscientious, independent, and hardworking. He attended Southwest High School, began his college career at the University of Kansas City, and later transferred to the University of Michigan, from which he graduated in 1944.

“As a youngster, I was an average student – and believe me, I had to work hard to be average,” said Bloch. “Yet my mother instilled in me the confidence that I could do anything I put my mind to. I’ve not forgotten my parents. They helped shape my thinking about the future and what I could accomplish.”

Henry enlisted in 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. He was awarded the Air Medal and three Oak Leaf Clusters.

During the war Henry and his two brothers kept their strong family ties. Henry, Leon and Richard began corresponding with each other about starting a business together, something that the boys’ parents had always encouraged. After his tour of duty in Europe, the Army Air Corps sent Henry to the 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 small business did not have comparable resources geared to meet its needs. Henry and his brothers saw an entrepreneurial opportunity in providing support and resources to small businesses.

In 1946, Henry and his brother Leon founded the United Business Company, starting the venture with a $5,000 loan from their aunt. 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 his fledgling venture finally began to grow, Henry placed a help-wanted ad in The Kansas City Star, for an assistant. His mother responded to the ad, urging Henry to hire his brother, Richard. Henry took her advice and the two brothers began working together as a team.

United Business Company’s primary focus was bookkeeping, with tax preparation offered to both bookkeeping and non-bookkeeping customers and friends. Shortly before the 1955 tax season, Richard and Henry decided to discontinue the time-consuming tax preparation services, which were not a significant source of revenue. But one of their clients, John White, offered what turned out to be momentous counsel. John, who worked in display advertising at The Kansas City Star, suggested that they advertise their tax preparation service instead of getting out of the business. After much discussion, John finally persuaded them to run two ads in late January 1955.

Those ads, which appeared shortly after people had received their W-2 forms, uncovered an overwhelming need for tax services. And, coincidentally, in Kansas City the Internal Revenue Service had just discontinued its practice of preparing tax returns at no charge to taxpayers. Within weeks, the company grossed more than $20,000, nearly a third of the annual volume United Business Company had taken years to develop.

In July 1955, Henry and Richard transformed their United Business Company into a new firm specializing in income tax return preparation: H&R Block, Inc. They named the company “Block” because their family name, “Bloch,” was often mispronounced and misspelled.

But it was an event in 1950 that would have an even greater impact on Henry’s personal life than the rise of his new tax preparation company. A family friend who was to be married asked Henry if he would escort his sister to his engagement parties. At the time, the beautiful, redheaded Marion Helzberg was a junior at the University of Missouri. It was love at first sight as a romance of a lifetime began. Following Marion’s graduation in 1951, the 28- and 20-year-olds were married.

“”Marion and I have been married for 61 years,” said Bloch. “I don’t believe I would have been nearly as successful without her. Marion’s love has made me whole.”

In the 1970s, H&R Block expanded its office network to more than 8,000 locations. In 1972, Henry Bloch became the face of the company by appearing in its television commercials. The campaign, called “17 Reasons”, helped build H&R Block into one of the most widely recognized brands in America and established Henry as the nation’s most trusted tax man. Henry’s personal integrity along with his simple, direct Midwestern style personified the company’s sincere commitment to its clients. He continued to appear in H&R Block’s television ads for more than 20 years.

In 1989, Henry became chairman of the board, filling a position that had been vacant since his brother, Richard, left the business in 1982. It was also in 1989 that the company began to be led by a new Bloch: Henry’s son, Tom.

Over the course of more than fifty years, H&R Block grew to become the largest commercial tax preparation firm in the world, with a vast web of more than 10,000 retail locations and 100,000 tax professionals.

Henry retired as chairman in 2000, when he assumed the title of chairman emeritus, the honorary position he continues to hold.

It was important to Henry and Richard that H&R Block be a good corporate citizen. In 1974, the two brothers formed The H & R Block Foundation. The mission of the foundation was and remains to this day “to seek to improve the quality of life by responding to the needs of people and communities through thoughtful, innovative, and responsible philanthropy.”

Woven into Marion and Henry’s rich history are shining examples of personal philanthropy in Kansas City – at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Henry W. Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and St. Luke’s Hospital, to name a few. Through their countless charitable efforts, the Blochs have enriched the lives of many and helped transform their hometown.

“I’ve tried to be a decent man,” said Bloch. “I’ve tried to be honest and do the right thing. And I’ve always wanted to have a clear conscience. There is so much yet to be accomplished. That’s why I still go to my office every day.”