The Life of Henry Bloch
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The Early years
Henry Wollman Bloch was born July 30, 1922 in Kansas City, Missouri, the second son of Leon and Hortense Bloch. Henry and his brothers, Leon and Richard, grew up on a quiet street where they played baseball in the vacant lot next door, climbed the old chestnut tree in their yard, and insisted on entering their home through the windows instead of the doors.
Keep growing, learning and changing. There's always room for improvement.
Henry would often ride his bike to Loose Park in Kansas City where he would sit on a hill overlooking the pond. It was there where he would ponder his future.
Henry was just an average student who struggled to find a clear path for his professional career. Math was the one subject he seemed to enjoy.
“I was pretty good at math,” said Henry, “but I was not a good student especially – just a very average student. But I did like math, it was my best subject. I thought I could teach math, but my mother really didn’t want me to – she wanted us three boys to go into business together.”
Henry first attended the University of Kansas City (later renamed the University of Missouri – Kansas City) and then transferred to the University of Michigan where he followed in the footsteps of his namesake, Henry Wollman, who was his mother’s beloved uncle.
It was at the University of Michigan where Henry would pursue a major in mathematics. “It was the only subject that mattered to me,” he said. “Sometimes I would sit up all night trying to work problems.”
In 1942, Henry entered his final year at Michigan uncertain of his future. The world had entered into one of its darkest periods. The war had taken over Europe and was expanding rapidly around the world.
Take time to dream. Then make your dreams come true.
In 1942, Henry was attending the University of Michigan when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Henry made the decision to join the Army Air Corps where he served in the Eighth Air Force as a navigator on B-17 bombers.
As a member of the 95th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force, Henry was stationed at Horham Airfield in eastern England, where he flew with a crew of nine other men on a plane call Heaven Can Wait.
The crew flew 32 combat missions over Germany, three of them over Berlin in some of the most heated battles of World War II, including D-Day.
Henry was awarded the Air Medal and three Oak Leaf Clusters and joined the honorary club for those who completed a tour of duty at Horham called “The Lucky Bastards Club.”
Luck was a constant theme through Henry’s life and career, as he would often attribute most of his success to just being lucky.
Meet adversity with courage.
During the war, Henry and his brothers, Leon and Richard, began corresponding with each other about starting a family business, something the boys’ parents had always encouraged.
Upon returning from the war, the Army Air Corps sent Henry to the Harvard Business School for graduate training in statistical control.
While at Harvard, Henry 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. United Business Company was formed by Henry and his older brother, Leon.
Luck favors those who work hard.
In 1946, Henry and his brother Leon founded the United Business Company, starting the business with a $5,000 loan from their wealthy Aunt, Kate Wollman. They rented a small office in the back of a building off Main Street in midtown Kansas City and would walk up and down the street to try and get business, but weren’t very successful.
The company offered bookkeeping and other services to small businesses, but with no customers and no credentials, they had very little luck attracting new businesses.
After a disappointing few months, Leon left the business to return to law school, while Henry persisted.
Never think about failing. When you fall, get back on your feet.
Henry began to gain a few clients for his struggling business and finally needed some help.
Henry published a help wanted advertisement in the Kansas City Star. His mother was the only person to answer the ad.
“Hire your brother Dick,” she instructed.
“But, Dick is married and I can’t afford to pay him,” said Henry.
“I’ll make up the difference,” she said.
Henry refused to take his mother’s money, but he did hire Dick.
Together they became a great team.
Determine and follow your own path. Ignore the naysayers.
During Marion Helzberg’s junior year of college, her older brother Jim fixed her up on a date with his close friend, a budding entrepreneur named Henry Bloch.
While they had known each other their entire lives, Marion was always the younger sister of his good friend, Jim. The last time he had seen her was as a young girl before he had departed for the war.
As she walked down the staircase, Henry was immediately struck by Marion’s stunning red hair, her gentle and kind eyes, and her warm smile.
During their five-month courtship in 1951, Henry wrote Marion:
“My dearest love, I do believe that no man has ever felt such love and honor towards his fiancée. May our next hundred years together help me to prove it. You are beautiful, intelligent, sweet, and with a wonderful personality. And much, much more than I could ever deserve.”
That summer, one month after Marion’s college graduation, the couple were married.
While Henry ran H&R Block, Marion ran their household. “The business didn’t mean a thing to her,” Henry says. Marion made sure that both of their personal lives revolved around the family.
Marion and Henry’s friends said that their marriage was made in heaven. “Nothing was missing,” one close friend remarked. Henry was enthralled by Marion’s warmth, beauty, and kindness.
“You are perfect,” he often told her.
Love is a gift. Treasure it.
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, 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. After much discussion, John finally persuaded them to run the ad twice, late in January 1955.
Henry was visiting customers on Monday after the first ad ran in The Kansas City Star. When he responded to a message to call the office, Henry found himself talking to a breathless Richard.
“Hank, get back here as quick as you can. We’ve got an office full of people!”
The ad, which was published shortly after many people had received their W-2 forms, uncovered an overwhelming need for tax services. And in Kansas City, the Internal Revenue Service had just discontinued its practice of preparing tax returns at no charge to taxpayers.
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.
To achieve success an an entrepreneur, persistence is as important as ambition and intelligence.
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 in 1956. H&R Block targeted locations as close as possible to IRS offices and opened seven offices in 1956. In only its second year, the company more than tripled revenues to $65,000.
Henry and Richard shared responsibilities for the New York offices with alternating two-week schedules. Both had families and neither wanted to move to New York, so they decided to sell the New York City operation.
The two CPAs who wanted to buy their New York business could not meet their asking price, so the CPAs agreed to pay the Bloch’s $10,000, along with royalties. The H&R Block franchise network was born.
To hit a home run - in business as in baseball - timing is critical.
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).
By 1963, the company hit another milestone – it prepared its one-millionth tax return and expanded its offices in Kansas City to house a 200-person headquarters with a flagship tax office. By the next year, H&R Block established its first franchise in Calgary marking its international expansion.
In 1964, H&R Block served 500,000 clients. The company used 10 million sheets of paper, 2,500 refillable mechanical pencils, 432,000 inches of lead, 18 million staples, 30 tons of coffee and 50,000 lollipops (for client’s children).
The brothers focused on growing customers, not profits and providing a quality service to its clients as they continued to expand the business.
The difference between success and failure is usually in the little things.
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 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.
We want each client to say, ‘Thank you. That’s a fine job you did for me.” If they don’t, then we’ve failed.
First and foremost, make decisions with your customers in mind.
The company faced another challenge in 1978. Richard Bloch, the chairman of the company, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and had three months to live. Richard refused to accept the 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.
"H&R Block never would have become what it is today if it weren’t for Dick. He had such a quick mind. I admired him and his adventurous spirit. And I valued our close friendship."
As the 1980’s approached, H&R Block had begun to diversify its portfolio by adding the purchase of CompuServe, and several other businesses.
By 1981, it had 8,000 offices, 43,000 seasonal works and 10 million clients.
Richard Bloch retired from H&R Block in 1982 to focus on his philanthropic efforts to support cancer patients and survivors, as Henry stepped in to lead the company, ending an almost 30-year partnership between the brothers.
“I hated to separate myself from the institution I helped start and bring up, but I feel it was well worthwhile,” Dick wrote. “My father said once you have three meals a day, you better do something for the next guy.”
Henry, now in his 60’s, began to plan the company’s next phase of growth as his son, Tom Bloch, took on more responsibility.
Life is not a dress rehearsal.
In 1986, H&R Block filed the first Electronic Tax Return to the IRS, changing the trajectory of the tax preparation industry.
By the end of the 1980’s, Henry had put a succession plan in place that would have his son, Tom Bloch, take over as CEO of H&R Block beginning in 1989 and Henry remain as Chairman.
“I have worked for this my entire life,” Henry told the New York Times. “It is nice to build something up and then be able to pass the running of the company on to someone in the family.”
Use technology as a strategic weapon.
Forty-five years after Henry Bloch and his brother, Richard, started H&R Block, he retired as Chairman of the Board in 2000.
“Building a company is a lot like raising a child,” said Henry said to associates of H&R Block at his retirement. “You try to instill values, purpose and character. You work hard. You take some risks. You worry a lot. Along he way, you try to provide direction and guidance, and set an example. But the child grows up and comes into its own and, if you are lucky, surprises you by accomplishing great things – things you never imagined possible. That is so true of my life with this company…. As long as we adhere to high standards, I believe our customers will continue to appreciate us and our company will continue to thrive.”
Henry turned his focus on giving back to the community that gave him so much.
A commitment to the greater good is good business.
After his retirement from H&R Block, Henry worked daily on 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 and The H & R Block Foundation.
In 2011, Henry and his wife, Marion, established the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation to continue their philanthropic legacy. The Foundation builds on their vision and values to improve the quality of life in Greater Kansas City through thoughtful, innovative and responsible philanthropy.
Make giving back part of your corporate culture. Encourage your associates to get involved in their communities.
Henry and his wife Marion had a passion for the arts and Henry served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, one of the nation’s premiere art museums.
In 2011, Marion and Henry Bloch announced that they would donate their expansive personal collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings to the museum, which includes works from artists such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas.
In 2015, the portraits were officially given to the museum and in March 2017, The Bloch Galleries opened in the museum’s original 1933 Beaux-Arts building, features nearly 30 masterpieces acquired by the Bloch family over the course of two decades.
Key works in the collection include:
Paul Cézanne, French (1839-1906). Man with a Pipe, 1890-1892. Oil on canvas, 17 x 13 ½ inches.
Edgar Degas, French (1834-1917). Dancer Making Points, 1879-1880. Pastel and gouache on paper mounted on board, 19 1/4 x 14 1/2 inches.
Edouard Manet, French (1832-1883). The Croquet Party, 1871. Oil on canvas, 18 x 28 ¾ inches.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French (1841-1919). Woman Leaning on Her Elbows, ca. 1875-1885. Oil on canvas, 5 ½ x 9 inches.
Vincent van Gogh, Dutch (1853-1890). Restaurant Rispal at Asnières, 1887. Oil on canvas, 28 7/8 x 23 5/8 inches.