Henry Bloch, Co-Founder Of H&R Block, Dies At 96

Apr 24, 2019
Originally published on April 24, 2019 7:18 am

When Henry Bloch returned to Kansas City, Mo., after World War II, he teamed up with his older brother Leon and they did bookkeeping and other services for small businesses.

Leon decided to return to law school, forcing Henry to find a replacement. He placed an ad in the newspaper.

Henry says his mother answered the ad and told him that he should hire his younger brother. Richard decided to join the business even though Henry said he couldn't afford him.

By 1955, the brothers decided to stop doing tax returns because they were too busy with other business services.

But one of their customers, an ad salesman, wanted his taxes prepared. He suggested that instead of getting out of the tax business, the brothers should advertise it.

He drew up an ad and the brothers went with it. The ad's headline read: Taxes $5. The first day the ad appeared in the newspaper, Henry says he got an urgent call from the office.

"It was Dick," Henry said. "Dick said, 'Come back as soon as you can, we've got an office full of people.' And I immediately went back, sat down at a desk and started filling out tax returns as best I could."

At the time, the IRS was phasing out its own free tax preparation service, which is one reason Henry and Richard formed H&R Block. They changed the "h" in their last name to a "k" so it would be easier to pronounce. The business took off, and the Blochs were among the nation's first franchising pioneers.

The company says it now has about 12,000 tax offices in the U.S. and other countries. The company reported last year that it had annual revenues of more than $3.1 billion and prepared 23 million tax returns worldwide.

In 1971, Richard, who battled lung and colon cancer, retired, and about 10 years later he sold his interest in the company. He died in 2004 at the age of 78.

Older brother Leon died in 2012 at the age of 91.

H&R Block was very successful and Henry put much of his fortune back into Kansas City, funding the arts and a business school among other things.

In the 1970s, Bloch and his wife, Marion, became avid art collectors. The couple amassed a collection of two dozen Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings. The collection included works by Manet, Van Gogh, Matisse and Monet.

Bloch had said that all the art would eventually go to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

Bloch died Tuesday at the age of 96 in Kansas City. He retired as the company's chief executive officer in 1992 and as chairman of the board of directors in 2000.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Henry Bloch, co-founder of H&R Block, has died at age 96. He and his brother pioneered the tax preparation business. And as Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports, he had a bit of luck along the way.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: When Henry Bloch got back from fighting World War II, he went into business doing accounting for small businesses in Kansas City. Eventually, as he says in this company video, he needed help. So he put an ad in the paper.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HENRY BLOCH: My mother answered the ad and said, I know who you should hire - your brother, Dick. And I said, Mom, I can't hire Dick.

MORRIS: Couldn't afford him. But Richard Bloch joined the company, anyway. And by 1955, the brothers had decided to stop doing taxes, too busy with other business services. But one of their customers, a guy who sold advertising and wanted his taxes done, suggested that instead of getting out of the tax business, they advertise it. And he drew up a newspaper ad.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BLOCH: It said, $5 for your tax return. And I asked him, how much is this ad going to cost us? He said, a hundred dollars. And I said, we'd have to do 20 returns just to get our money back.

MORRIS: They ran the ad, anyway, and Bloch soon got an urgent call from the office.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BLOCH: There was Dick, and said, come back as soon as you can. We've got an office full of people. So I immediately went back, sat down at a desk and started filling out tax returns as best I could.

MORRIS: Turned out the IRS was phasing out its own free tax preparation service. So Henry and Richard formed H&R Block, went all in. Business took off.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BLOCH: The H&R Block guarantee. That's No. 14 of my 17 reasons why we should prepare your taxes.

MORRIS: Henry Bloch plowed much of his fortune back into Kansas City, funding the arts and a business school, among other things.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.