Father and son duo Henry and Tom Bloch were welcomed to Bloch Executive Hall Sept. 7 with a standing ovation from a packed house.
“Do you think we can live up to it, dad?” Tom asked.
“Oh, I doubt it,” Henry laughed.
The Bloch’s presentation, “The Making of a Legend: A Conversation with Henry and Tom Bloch,” focused on Henry’s journey from student to struggling businessman to world-renowned entrepreneur.
“I’m embarrassed to admit that I was not a good student.” Henry said when addressing the students in attendance. “I had to work hard, but I’m glad, because working hard helped me in the long run.”
The pair went on to discuss Henry’s military service during World War II, during which he flew 32 missions as a navigator with the U.S. Air Force. While enlisted, Henry was sent to Harvard for a program focused on improving efficiency for military officers. During his lunch breaks, he would visit the Harvard library, where he came across an article on the importance of small business. Henry was so intrigued by this idea that he reached out to his brother, Leon, and together they came up with 50 services they could offer to small businesses.
Struggling to find a niche which would turn a profit, Henry reached out to a wealthy aunt who had previously funded his education to ask for a loan of $50,000.
“She did us a wonderful favor – she said no,” Henry said.
Eventually, Leon chose to leave the business to pursue a law degree. Upon Leon’s departure, Henry narrowed his focus to one service – bookkeeping.
Eventually, Henry’s other brother, Richard, joined him in business. They charged their clients $15 a month for bookkeeping services, which included tax preparation. To gain more clients, the brothers began offering tax preparation only, preparing state and federal income tax returns for only $5. With two simple ads in the Kansas City Star promoting $5 income tax services, Henry and Richard’s office was overrun, and H&R Block was born.
“We had a lot of good luck,” Henry said.
“He says he’s lucky – but he’s made his luck,” Tom followed.
Henry served as H&R Block’s CEO until 1992, when Tom followed in his footsteps. Tom served as CEO until 1995, when he left to become a middle school math teacher. Tom went on to found University Academy, a college-preparatory charter school, in 2000.
Around his 90th birthday, Henry decided he was ready for a new challenge. He wanted to use his wealth to give back to Kansas City, and formed the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation in 2011. Today, the foundation works to support three primary causes: UMKC Henry W. Bloch School of Management, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and St. Luke’s Health System.
According to Tom, Henry has one hard and fast stipulation about the foundation in the long term – the funds must always give back to Kansas City.
“I have a big debt to the people of Kansas City,” Henry said. “Without them, there would be no H&R Block.”