By: Pola Firestone
One of Kansas City’s greatest entrepreneurs, Henry W. Bloch, co-founded H&R Block Inc. in 1955 and helped build it into the world’s largest tax preparation company. Bloch spoke about, “Seven Lessons for Entrepreneurs,” at Kansas City’s Central Library in conjunction with Global Entrepreneurship Week. The presentation also coincided with the paperback release of Tom Bloch’s book, Many Happy Returns: The Story of Henry Bloch, America’s Tax Man.
Lesson One: Persistence is as important as ambition and intelligence.
After the Second World War, Henry Bloch and his brother, Richard, started a bookkeeping business. Richard quit law school at University of Missouri to start the business, but it was so unsuccessful Richard returned to law school. Henry kept at it. In 1947 revenues totaled $250. Henry claimed he was a “C” student at Southwest High School in south Kansas City, but was a hard worker and eventually learned the value of persistence.
Lesson Two: Determine your own path.
Henry’s first job after leaving the Army Air Corps was selling stock at H.O. Peet, a local brokerage firm. He hated it and quit to start his own business. Henry’s father was a naysayer and wanted him to stay employed. Later on, Henry said his father was proud of what his sons accomplished and “pinned” all the H & R Block locations on a map.
Lesson Three: Reassess and adjust your plan as necessary.
As the bookkeeping business grew and Richard returned to help out, they earned a good reputation for preparing income taxes. However, this service was only available for bookkeeping clients. When John White, their advertising represent-ative from the Kansas City Star newspaper, asked to have his taxes done, Henry refused. John believed that Henry and Richard should go into the tax return business and recommended running two ads at $100 each. Richard said it was a good idea, but Henry thought it was too much money. After the ads were published business boomed. Thanks to John White, Henry and his brother transformed their bookkeeping business to the tax services business.
Lesson Four: Timing is critical.
The ads ran in the newspaper right after W-2 statements were sent from employers. The timing was perfect and the office filled with customers.
Lesson Five: Make decisions with the customer in mind.
Henry said he would do anything to make his customers happy In fact, H & R Block didn’t raise tax preparation fees for 12 years. In 1957 H & R Block was the largest tax service in the country with 17 offices.
Lesson Six: Avoid pursing short term goals that aren’t contributing to long term growth.
Unfortunately, Henry and Richard were sued by Kansas City lawyers and accountants in their first year of business. In those days, professionals couldn’t advertise their services and Henry and Richard’s business was competition. So they moved to New York City and opened seven offices. In 1956 H & R Block broke even. But Henry and Richard wanted to move back to Kansas City. Two CPAs were interested in buying the New York offices, but had little money. The offices were sold for a total of $10,000 and a percentage of the revenues. The sale became H & R Block’s first franchise. Now there are 2500 franchises.
Lesson Seven: Your legacy is what you do for others.
When approaching his 90th year Henry thought about what would he like to do next. His lawyer suggested forming a foundation. Henry always felt a debt to the people of Kansas City. Now the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation is the third largest foundation of its kind in the region giving to the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Business, the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art and Saint Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City. When asked if giving money away is the happiest time in his career, Henry said yes, because he doesn’t have to worry.
Henry and his brother Richard didn’t just start a business, they started an industry. Henry was determined to be successful. He felt he was lucky and found a business that was needed.
Content contributed by Pola Firestone, with U.S.SourceLink, America’s largest resource network for entrepreneurs.