Henry Bloch's new venture

By Kathryn Levy Feldman

To celebrate his 90th birthday, H&R Block's chairman emeritus started a family foundation. He and his four children are working together to support their hometown.

The cover of the March 1990 issue of Family Business Magazine—the publication's third issue—featured Henry Bloch, co-founder of the H&R Block tax-preparation company, and his son Tom, who had just been named the company's president. "He has a tremendous business sense," Tom Bloch said of his father back in 1990, "and having had the opportunity to learn from him has given me a great advantage."

Two years ago, Henry Bloch used that business sense to create the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation, officially launched on his 90th birthday, July 30, 2012. The foundation supports organizations that serve Greater Kansas City, where Bloch grew up, raised his family and founded his business along with his late brother, Richard.

Bloch, now H&R Block's chairman emeritus, recalls that the idea for the family's new venture was sparked by a conversation during lunch with his longtime attorney, Peter Brown. Bloch had long been extremely active in civic affairs and philanthropic efforts in his beloved hometown but wanted "to do something new," he says. Brown asked him, "Have you ever thought about starting a family foundation?" Bloch replied that he hadn't. As further encouragement, Brown supplied him with reading material on the subject.

According to Bloch, all of the reading material offered the same advice: "If you are wealthy and you leave the money to your family, [future generations] can be unproductive citizens. . . Odds are, they will grow up feeling privileged and not feel the need to work. That convinced me in a hurry to start a family foundation." Bloch plans to bequeath additional resources to the foundation through his estate.

Governance and mission

Henry Bloch is chairman of the family foundation, which is governed by a nine-member board of directors that includes all four of Henry and Marion Bloch's children (Robert Bloch, Tom Bloch, Mary Jo Brown and Elizabeth Uhlmann). Marion Bloch, who battled brain cancer, passed away on Sept. 24, 2013.

The other foundation directors are prominent members of the Kansas City community. When Henry Bloch retires as chairman, family members will be in the minority on the foundation's board. The foundation also has five trustees, who elect the directors; three of the trustees are family members.

Bloch has a long history of philanthropic largesse in his native city. He is past president or chairman of a variety of non-profit entities, including the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Menorah Medical Foundation, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He is a trustee emeritus of St. Luke's Hospital and many other local institutions.

In 1974, Henry Bloch established the H&R Block Foundation, whose goal is to improve the quality of life in the Kansas City community. He continues to serve as that foundation's chairman and treasurer and as a director. While the H&R Block Foundation is broad in its scope and impact, the Bloch Family Foundation supports organizations that serve Greater Kansas City in several focus areas: post-secondary business and entrepreneurship education; visual and performing arts; education for poor, disadvantaged and underserved youth; health care; social services; and Jewish community organizations. It places special priority on funding programs and operations at three institutions the family has long supported: the Henry W. Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and St. Luke's Hospital. "By contributing to these three organizations, we are raising the profile of the entire city," Bloch asserts.

"The relationship between the foundation and its legacy organizations is more of a partnership," explains David Miles, who serves as president of the Bloch Family Foundation as well as the H&R Block Foundation. "We work together to establish strategic funding plans and goals to raise the national profile of each institution."

Miles says the foundation's plans for the Bloch School include forming a full-time honors MBA program and establishing a university-wide entrepreneurship program. In December 2013, the foundation made a $12 million gift commitment to St. Luke's Hospital to establish the Marion Bloch Neuroscience Institute. "We want the institute to be a nationally recognized and ranked center for neurosciences," Miles says.

The Blochs' private collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings will be permanently housed at the Nelson-Atkins Museum. "Much of our work is assuring the Nelson remains one of Kansas City's most important cultural treasures and one of the premier art museums in the United States," Miles says. "The foundation's current focus is preparing the Nelson for the arrival of the Bloch Collection." The museum's Bloch Building, a bold, glass 165,000-square-foot addition, opened in 2007. Time magazine ranked the building as the No. 1 "architectural marvel" that year.

Miles says Henry Bloch has been a mentor and an inspiration. "He has taught me so much about business and philanthropy, and I am honored to consider him a friend," Miles says.

New directions

Bloch, who still drives himself to his office every day, credits his longevity to good genes (his father lived to 95) and keeping busy. Though he has no formal involvement with H&R Block, he says he still visits the company's headquarters and attends annual meetings.

His son Tom resigned as CEO of H&R Block in 1995 to become a math teacher at an urban school in Kansas City and later founded University Academy, an urban college preparatory charter school. Tom chronicled these experiences in a 2008 book entitled Stand for the Best: What I Learned After Leaving My Job as CEO of H&R Block to Become a Teacher and Founder of an Inner City Charter School (see FB, Autumn 2008).

Tom Bloch, who had rejoined H&R Block's board in 2000, stepped down in 2010. In a letter to the board, he said he was leaving because of disagreements with then-chairman Richard Breeden over the company's direction and his concern that short-term returns would be emphasized over long-term shareholder value.

In 2011, Tom Bloch published another book, Many Happy Returns: The Story of Henry Bloch, America's Tax Man, an account of his entrepreneurial father's contributions in business, philanthropy and family life. "In an era rife with corruption and greed, Henry Bloch inspires us to work hard, be honest, and follow our dreams," Tom wrote in an author's note.

"My father is such a wonderful man, and writing about him was a true labor of love," Tom Bloch says. "I really feel so incredibly fortunate to have worked with him and learned from him."

Henry Bloch says that establishing the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation was also a labor of love. "I can't think of anything better to do with my money," he says. "There are a lot of people in Kansas City a lot wealthier than I am, and they should do the same thing."

Copyright 2014 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.

Article categories: 
Print / Download
September/October 2014

Other Related Articles

  • Kemin Industries

    Business owners address community's dire need.

  • Avoiding family philanthropy pitfalls

    Philanthropy may keep family members engaged in the family business (including those not otherwise working in it) and can promote family values. Even so, the unique circumstances of business families ...

  • Charity and challenges: The pros and cons of family foundations

    In addition to making a societal impact, a family foundation can unify the family and create an enduring legacy — if the foundation is well run.

  • My kind of town

    Last month, my husband and I blew into Chicago for the wedding of the son of one of my dear friends from college. While we were visiting, we strolled around the city taking in the natural beauty of th...