H&R Block founder Henry Bloch dies

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Henry W. Bloch, who co-founded tax prep giant H&R Block and grew it from one storefront to more than 12,000 offices nationwide, has died at 96.

Block released no further details on his death except to say that “one of the founding voices of the tax preparation industry” died peacefully on Tuesday surrounded by his family.

Bloch helped guide the growth of the family business, co-founded with his brother Richard in 1955, from a single Main Street storefront in Kansas City, Missouri, to a global consumer services provider. Bloch retired as the company’s CEO in 1992 and as chairman of the board in 2000.

“Henry embodied the best of American business, entrepreneurship and philanthropy. In so many ways, he was ahead of his time and a model for today’s entrepreneur,” said Jeff Jones, president and chief executive officer of H&R Block Inc.

A ‘complimentary service’

The second son of a prominent Kansas City lawyer, Bloch attended Southwest High School in Kansas City and graduated from the University of Michigan in 1944 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in mathematics. He joined the Army Air Corps in World War II and served in the Eighth Air Force as a navigator on B-17 bombers. He flew 32 combat missions and was awarded the Air Medal and three Oak Leaf Clusters.

After the war, Bloch and his brother Leon founded United Business Co., which provided bookkeeping and other services to small businesses in Kansas City. Leon left the business to pursue a law degree and younger brother Richard joined United Business in 1946. Tax prep was a complementary service two brothers offered to their small-business clients.

By 1955, the brothers decided to eliminate the tax service and focus on their bookkeeping business. One client – an advertising representative with The Kansas City Star – encouraged them to continue offering tax prep and persuaded them to place two advertisements in the paper offering federal and state income tax preparation for $5.

The response to the advertisements was immediate – perhaps because the IRS had just started phasing out its practice of preparing tax returns free to taxpayers locally and nationwide.

Later that year, Henry and Richard Bloch founded H&R Block, changing the spelling of their last name to make it easier to pronounce and spell.

In 1956, the IRS discontinued free tax preparation in New York; the Blochs opened six offices there, along with two additional offices in Kansas City. The company generated more than $120,000 in revenue, a six-fold increase over the previous year, and expanded rapidly, aided by the concept of franchising offices.

The company went public in 1962, and Henry Bloch served as its president from then until 1988, adding the title of chief executive officer in 1974. He became chairman of the board of directors and CEO in 1989.

Noted philanthropist

After his retirement, Bloch worked daily on his many philanthropic endeavors in Kansas City, including the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation, 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. During his lifetime, he served on more than 50 corporate and nonprofit boards. He received honorary doctorate degrees from eight colleges and universities.

Bloch is survived by his four children: Robert L. Bloch, Thomas M. Bloch, Mrs. Mary Jo Brown and Mrs. Elizabeth Uhlmann, all of Kansas City; 12 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.

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