Henry Bloch, 1922–2019
The entrepreneur who built a tax preparation empire
In January 1955, Henry and Richard Bloch decided to take one last shot at saving the struggling tax-preparation service of their otherwise healthy bookkeeping business. The brothers paid $200 for a small ad in The Kansas City Star that showed a man behind an eight ball, with the headline “Taxes, $5.” The first day the ad ran, customers flooded the Blochs’ office—the brothers were unwitting beneficiaries of an IRS decision to scrap the agency’s long-standing practice of preparing tax returns for free. Henry and Richard quickly created a tax-specialist firm to meet demand, H&R Block (an anglicized version of Bloch). It now has more than 12,000 offices worldwide and annual revenues exceeding $3 billion. “We had no idea,” Henry said, “of the success we would eventually achieve.”
Henry Bloch was born in Kansas City, Mo., “to a prominent Jewish family,” said The Kansas City Star. He served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, serving as a B-17 navigator in Europe, and was later sent by the military to study statistics at Harvard Business School. But Bloch had entrepreneurial ambitions and at age 24 founded United Business Co.—which offered financial services to small businesses—with his older brother, Leon. Things were slow at first, and Leon left to return to law school. Younger brother Richard took his place, and soon an empire was born.
Henry was H&R Block’s “folksy pitchman in TV commercials for decades,” said The New York Times. Gray-haired and soberly dressed, he reassured viewers that they needn’t “face the tax laws alone.” He admitted that the tax code’s complexity was a boon to the family business. “You can either have a simple tax return or a fair tax return,” he said in 1986, “but you can’t have both.”