Tax Man Shares Tales of Luck, Learning and Leaving a Legacy


It's a cold but sunny February afternoon in Kansas City, and Henry Bloch, 83, retired cofounder and CEO of H&R Block, could be relaxing at home, playing golf in Florida or for that matter doing whatever strikes his fancy.

But, apparently, what he wanted to do this Friday afternoon was address a group of 56 students from all disciplines who are participating in the University of Missouri-Kansas City's Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation Bootcamp, a program of the Bloch School of Business and Public Administration.

Henry is telling them about the excitement and rewards of entrepreneurship. How in 1945 after flying 31 combat missions out of England, the Air Force sent him to Harvard Business School, where he got the idea for a business providing bookkeeping services to small companies. How he and his brother Richard started United Business Company with a $5,000 loan and struggled for ten years. How everything changed in 1955 when a client convinced the brothers to place a newspaper ad for tax preparation services.

The day the ad ran, Henry got an urgent message from Richard. "Hank," he said, "get back here as quick as you can. We've got an office full of people!" Published shortly after people had received their W-2 forms, the ad uncovered an overwhelming need for tax services. And, it ran at the same time the IRS was discontinuing its practice of preparing tax returns at no charge to taxpayers.

Sure, Henry and Richard got some lucky breaks. What matters, Henry tells his listeners, is that we took advantage of them.

Speaking and Sharing

Henry speaks frequently about entrepreneurship to students at the Bloch School, which bears his name, as well as other groups. Margaret Kenefake, a recent MBA graduate of the Bloch School who now manages women's entrepreneurship initiatives for the Kauffman Foundation, fondly remembers his inspirational presentation to her class.

One area Henry is often asked to address when he speaks concerns succession in a family business and specifically about his son Tom. Tom resigned as CEO of H&R Block in 2000 to found a charter school. Today, he teaches seventh grade math. Indeed, the Kauffman Foundation recently announced that will focus substantial resources in math and science education, recognizing these subjects' vital role in preparing youth for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Tom's decision to teach probably shouldn't have surprised Henry, given his own belief in education, particularly for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. When Henry retired as chairman of the board in 2000, the company presented him with two gifts. The first was the Henry Wolman Bloch Fountain erected in his honor in front of Kansas City's downtown Union Station. The second is the Henry Bloch Scholars Program.

Each year through the Scholars Program, 90 urban youth attend Penn Valley Community College in Kansas City, Missouri, or Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas, and transfer for their bachelor's degrees to four-year colleges. To help ensure the students' success, the program includes academic coaching. Thus far, 23 students have graduated from the community colleges, of which five or six are pursuing master's degrees.

"Henry is very passionate about Bloch Scholars," says David Miles, president of the H&R Block Foundation, with assets of $56.7 million. "He attends the meetings and knows a lot of the students."

Henry chokes up when he reads letters like this one from Tajsheena Leggs:

I am extremely grateful to you for your generosity in funding my college education not only from Donnelly where I transferred from, but also here at Rockhurst. You have given me the opportunity to better my future. Without this scholarship, I would not be here today. I now know that my potential is far greater than it would have been had I not had the chance to get a college education. You have opened a door for me that I never thought I would find. Now, thanks to your organization, I have to dream a bigger dream.

Corporate Philanthropy

Although H&R Block had always been philanthropic, Henry wanted to establish a company foundation truly committed to the needs of the community as opposed to furthering corporate objectives. From its start in 1974, the H&R Block Foundation has focused on the same four areas—education, community development, health and human services, and arts and culture—and almost exclusively in Kansas City.

Given the company's entrepreneurial culture, it's been natural for the foundation to favor organizations and programs that foster innovation, such as the multi-purpose center for homeless individuals it's now helping get off the ground.

"The idea is to take existing programs for the homeless and bring them into one facility with the goal of helping people become self-sufficient," said Miles. "The way things are now, the shelters kick you out at 6 a.m. The day facility is somewhere else in a basement. If you want lunch, you walk another 10 blocks and another five or six for mental health services. To get your GED, you walk to the library and hope they'll let you in. In these conditions, people can't become self-sufficient. They're focused on survival."

H&R Block encourages associates to help improve the communities where they live and work. The foundation provides extra encouragement to support education by matching associates' gifts to private secondary schools, colleges and universities and by awarding scholarships to children of eligible associates who demonstrate diligence and academic excellence.

The company values volunteerism by donating cash gifts to nonprofit organizations for which associates volunteer a specific number of hours within a 12-month period. And, it recognizes associates' outstanding community services with special awards.

Though the years, with the support of his board, Henry has shared untold hours of his time and expertise to further the social and economic well being of the community H&R Block calls home.

In the 1980s, he addition to serving as president of the Civic Council and the Chamber of Commerce, he also chaired the trustees of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, served as general chair of the Heart of America United Way campaign, and established the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art's Business Council. The museum, whose board of trustees Henry currently chairs, still takes much of his time as it undergoes a major renovation and addition.

"I'm not sure there's anything that Henry Bloch has not been involved in," says U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) and former Mayor of Kansas City, Mo.

"Many times you'll find that CEOs will not get involved themselves. They'll send the director of HR or the vice president of jelly beans or whatever to go out and give the time to serve on boards and commissions. That has not been the case with Henry Bloch. He has put himself on the line. His willingness to say yes is something that is remarkable considering that there are no more rivers that Henry needs to cross to impress anyone."

© 2006 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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