“I Should’a Come Here Last Year.”
—H&R Block Commercial
Henry Bloch is a world-famous businessman, thanks in part to the company that bears his name and his down-home demeanor displayed on television commercials. He and his brother Richard started what became the largest tax services company in history: H&R Block. At one time, the company filed one out of every nine tax returns in the United States and served more than 20 million clients all over the globe.
THE EARLY YEARS
Henry Bloch was born in Kansas City on July 30, 1922. His father was a prominent lawyer, which likely stimulated his interest in business and legal issues. He attended Southwest High School and then attended the University of Missouri–Kansas City for a short time before transferring to the University of Michigan. He graduated in 1944 during the buildup to World War II and put his business dreams on hold to service in the U.S. military.
RISE TO FAME
Bloch entered the Army Air Corps shortly after graduation and served as a navigator on B-17 Bombers over Germany. He took part in thirty-one missions during the war, including three combat missions over Berlin. He was awarded the Air Medal and three Oak Leaf Clusters before the U.S. Air Force sent him to Harvard Business School to study statistical controls.
While studying at Harvard, a professor pointed out that large corporations had specialized departments to assist them in taxation and business issues, but small companies did not have the same resources. This is when Bloch cultivated the idea of offering bookkeeping services to assist small businesses.
Two years after graduating from Michigan, Henry and his brother Leon founded the United Business Company to offer bookkeeping and tax services to small businesses. Leon left the company to attend law school, but Henry and Richard persisted. Early in the company’s development, they abandoned the tax preparation portion of the company because it wasn’t proving to be a good source of revenue. A client urged them to run a small ad in the newspaper to see if there really was a demand for personal tax preparation. Much to their surprise, they were overwhelmed with the response from people who wanted their expertise and assistance.
At the same time they place the ad, the Kansas City IRS office discontinued offering free tax assistance. The time was right to capitalize on a business niche that was about to explode on the American landscape.
SHOW ME SUCCESS
Henry and Richard redirected the United Business Company into a new company that specialized in income tax preparation called H&R Block. “Block” replaced the family name of Bloch, because the original name was difficult to pronounce and spell. The business was an instant success, but in order to grow, the brothers had to find other cities in which to expand. Just like the scenario that took place in Kansas City, the federal government eliminated free tax assistance in New York, so they packed their briefcases and headed east to open a new office.
Business was booming in both cities, but the brothers wanted to live with their families in Missouri. They decided to sell the New York operations, where a
twist of fate turned the sale into a franchise deal. The prospective buyers couldn’t come up with the money, so they agreed to buy a portion of the company, plus pay a portion of the profits to the Blochs. It was a perfect deal for the brothers, who began to replicate this business model across the country. Seven years after opening H&R Block, the company had 206 offices and growing revenues. They took the company public later that year.
The 1970s and 1980s were a time of explosive growth for the company as they took on more clients and bought smaller firms. The number of tax offices in the 1970s blossomed to more than 8,600, aided in part by Bloch’s appearances in television commercials. The company expanded their empire by opening income tax schools to keep up with the growing demand for qualified tax experts.
Henry retired as chairman in 2000, assuming the title of chairman emeritus. His day-to-day operations were over, but he continued to play a vital role in the continued growth of the company and in the betterment of the city he called home, Kansas City.
*Henry Bloch first appeared in commercials in 1972, which built H&R Block into one of the most widely recognized brands.
*The School of Business and Public Affairs at UMKC is named “The Bloch School”