"I enjoy working on my taxes," says H.
"Oh God! That's the most fun of anything," says R.
Madmen, perhaps? Masochists? Members of a weird cult? No, merely the founders of H&R Block Inc., Henry and Richard Bloch, who stuck a "k" in the company name so people wouldn't say "blotch." The Income Tax People.
In the weeks leading up to April 15 -- America's secular answer to Judgment Day -- the firm leaps into the breach between the ordinary citizen and the almighty Internal Revenue Service. So it is; so it shall ever be; taxes without end, amen.
In the beginning, back in 1955, the brothers Bloch prepared about 2,700 individual income tax returns. This year, the firm will do almost 10 million -- which is to say, about 10 percent of all the returns filed in the United States. No one else comes close.
The Blochs, not surprisingly, are rich. Maybe that's why they like working on their own returns so much -- "learning about my finances," as Henry puts it -- although the job has become so multifarious and demanding that Richard (who is honorary chairman of the board) gets help from a friend at H&R Block, while Henry (who's president and chief executive officer) uses the corporate accounting firm Touche Ross & Co.
"It's always better," Henry advises, "to have someone else go over your tax return."
This year, as always, the brothers plan to meet the filing deadline -- after, of course, resisting the temptation to linger pleasurably over their 1040s.
"I've never gotten an extension," says Henry. "Never hope to. Never want to."
"Don't believe in extensions," says Richard. "Three and a half months is plenty of time."
Of the occasional IRS audit, meanwhile, they have only nice things to say.
"It's a great challenge," says Henry. "I enjoy a challenge."
"It's like taking a bath," says Richard. "You feel good when you come out of the shower. You're clean and you smell good. When you come out of an audit you get a letter: 'Your return is accepted as filed.'
"You feel good. You feel clean. You got another year behind you."
Henry and Richard Bloch lead very different lives these days. Henry plays the conscientious CEO while Richard, retired and recovered from cancer, crusades to make lifesaving medical expertise "available to the masses."
But 31 years ago, the Blochs teamed up to start a small business -- a prosaic business, some might say a tedious business -- that somehow has managed to become a bona fide American icon.
Johnny Carson makes jokes about it ("My tax advisers, H&R Gonif," he quips). Fans ask for autographs, reporters for interviews, some of the faithful for relics.
"I wish I kept track of all the things I get asked to do," says Henry, poised behind his big brown desk in his Kansas City, Mo., office. "It's fascinating. 'What's the oldest thing in your refrigerator?' Would I send a tie? Somebody wants to make a bedspread out of it. Somebody's writing a book on Texans -- would I give them an expression about Texas? You name it. Silly, silly things."
Others, mainly publishers, actually give him things free -- apparently a source of confusion and mystery to him for many, many years. "They just mail me their books!" he marvels. "Lots and lots of them! I don't know why."
Perhaps they want a blurb for their book jacket, something nice and pithy for their ads.
"Is that it?" Henry says, his voice rising with amazement.
Under normal circumstances the voice is as flat as a wheat field. His face is as plain as a loaf of bread -- as anyone who has been watching television lately cannot have failed to notice. He is H&R Block personified, the avatar of the income tax return.
"I'm Henry Bloch, president of H&R Block," he has been telling America for 15 years, and an entire nation has thrilled to ever more of his 17 Reasons ("Number 3. We take all the time we need . . ."). This year, the advertising campaign is geared to refunds and deductions. "What can we find for YOU?" Henry asks. In some test markets, he dramatically whips off his gold-rimmed half-specs and promises, "You get the biggest refund you've got coming -- or your return is FREE."
"Henry has the ability to be himself in front of the camera, and that presence makes him believable and recognizable as a man with a credible cause," according to the narrator of a company-produced videotape to be shown tonight in New York, at a dinner honoring Henry as the Leukemia Society's "Corporate Star of 1986."
Richard, who at 60 is three years Henry's junior, is almost anonymous by comparison. He semiretired from H&R Block in 1969, at age 43, and came down with lung cancer in 1978, after years of heavy smoking. Given six months to live, he conquered his illness with intensive therapy after consulting the best specialists money could buy. In 1982 he sold all of his H&R stock, and now he concentrates on offering cancer patients what his company offered taxpayers -- access to expertise they didn't think they could afford.
The different personalities of Henry and Richard -- although they otherwise seem as close as brothers can be -- make one wonder at their common parentage.
Henry greets a breakfast guest at his rigorously tasteful Kansas City home (appointed unobtrusively with paintings by Gauguin, Renoir and van Gogh) wearing the grayest of gray suits, a monogrammed shirt and the blackest of tasseled wing tips.
Richard bounds to the door of his jazzy white-on-white Fort Lauderdale condominium (his two boats, cabin cruiser After Taxes and runabout Thank You Angel, docked unavoidably in the back) sporting fire-engine red pants, a shirt with enough red checks to induce dizziness -- and no shoes at all.
Henry is deliberative, Richard impulsive. Henry tends to be bland and laconic, Richard vivid and loquacious. Henry punctuates his thoughts with semicolons, Richard with exclamation points.
"Dick's very smart -- very quick minded," says Henry.
"One of my theories is," says Richard, "YOU HAVE TO BE HUNGRY TO BE SUCCESSFUL!"
"I think I'm fairly conservative," Henry says. He pauses. He pauses some more. "Quite conservative," he adds after a while.
"Henry," says Richard with a giggle, "he's sedated."
"Dick had lung cancer, and that's one of the worst types of cancer," says Henry. "He's lucky to have lived through it. And I think that may have affected his life somewhat. I think he's very appreciative of being alive now."
"There's a lot of things about Henry that surprise me," says Richard. "It surprised me in the early years of the business when he was so self-conscious he wouldn't stand up and make a talk. Now he has definitely matured. Now he'll go anywhere and speak -- and he speaks very well!"
"I think we complement each other," says Henry. "I think we've always complemented each other," says Richard.
It is Monday morning, rushing headlong toward Tax Day. Henry holds forth at his breakfast table, at the wheel of his sporty Mercedes and -- between phone calls and other press interviews -- at corporate headquarters, before grabbing a plane to New York.
"There was one movie that influenced me more than any I ever saw," he says. "It was 'The Life of Louis Pasteur.' It may have been the mood I was in, or the age I was when I saw it. But from then on I always wanted to do something. I just didn't want to live and die."
At one time he wanted to be a math teacher ("I can add fairly fast") and he worked briefly as a stockbroker ("I was on the telephone taking orders, 'buy this, sell that' "). H&R Block, it seems, began almost by happenstance. The sons of a prosperous Kansas City lawyer, Henry and his older brother Leon had a modest bookkeeping business after World War II. When Leon left to go to law school in 1947 -- never to return -- Richard quit his sales job in the bed lamp industry to join Henry.
It wasn't until 1954, with the business thriving (that is, grossing $75,000 a year), that the brothers Bloch decided to offer tax preparation as a sideline. The response was so good that the next year, they formed H&R Block, charging $5 a return (compared to today's $45 average). The aforementioned Leon is now quietly practicing law. "I guess it would have been more lucrative if I'd stayed," L. Bloch ventures. Every Monday during spring and summer, he plays tennis with his siblings on Richard's private court.
Today Henry presides over a $500 million mini-conglomerate of service companies, providing health care, office temporaries, business seminars, computer networks and business management, not to mention tax preparation at 9,000 offices worldwide, some as far away as New Zealand. He is also a pillar of Kansas City society, serving on a dizzying array of boards, commissions and charities, including his own H&R Block Foundation.
"I have trouble saying no. Last week I went to one of our time management seminars. Wonderful. I'd signed up for one before, but I had to cancel because I couldn't find the time to go. And I heard at the time management seminar that probably the most key thing to managing your time is learning to say no -- which I don't do very well."
Thus this morning he finds himself being interrogated by a Swedish business magazine -- "You can either have a simple tax return or a fair tax return, but you can't have both," he tells the reporter -- while the next day, he will be giving tax advice to Bruce Jenner on "Good Morning America." He'll return later in the week to talk tax reform at the "Eggs and Issues" breakfast club, warning his fellow Kansas Citians, "I feel a little like Elizabeth Taylor's 10th husband -- he knew what he was supposed to do, but he didn't know how to make it interesting." All the while, he expectantly monitors the company's daily "barometer" -- a scientific sampling of tax return volumes in specified locations.
"It's a very key time for profitability," Henry says. "We show a loss in the first nine months of the fiscal year and then we make it all up in the fourth quarter, which is the tax season."
Henry is concerned but confident. After all, as he admits, nothing really bad has ever happened to him. Not ever. "I love life," he says. "Obviously, the thought that I won't be here in another 50 years does bother me."
Says the apostle of the 17 reasons: "I sort of break my life down into four parts, and I love all four of those parts. I would say the most important is family. Parts 2, 3 and 4 I have trouble differentiating as to importance. One would be the business, because I really enjoy working. Another part would be community involvement. Number 4 would be sports. I enjoy golf and tennis."
While many modern American families have been scattered to the four winds, Henry lives within a few miles of the house he grew up in, and within a mile or two of his four children and eight grandchildren. Marion, Henry's wife of 35 years, is the "backbone of the family," according to son Tom, president of H&R Block's tax operation -- arranging the regular Sunday dinners and other big occasions. Everything is normal, everyone happy. No one, it seems, has felt compelled to run off and join an est group.
"What's 'est'?" Marion asks.
"I'm sorry if it sounds blah," Tom says, "but that's the way it is."
Definitely not blah, of course, are Henry's paintings. They make one gasp. He refuses to discuss them. But his son Bob, an assistant curator at Kansas City's Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, says the collection of 19th-century French Impressionists constitutes one of the more remarkable in private hands. Bob attributes it all to his father's innate "love of esthetics," although brother Leon guesses that "it may have started when they were in the middle of redecorating and Henry was looking for something to put on the walls."
Then there's Henry's recent appearance on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," featuring British celebrity hound Robin Leach. "I wouldn't let them into our home," Henry says. Instead he took the crew over to his Kansas City alma mater, Southwest High. "I thought it was all right," he says of the result, "but that guy with that English accent -- I think he just ruins it."
Over breakfast in Fort Lauderdale -- where he winters with Annette, his wife of 40 years -- Richard says he was surprised by his brother's appearance on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."
"Why Henry would get on that show, why he would allow . . . Can you explain it, dear?" he says, turning to Annette, also barefoot, sitting beside him on the bright white sofa.
"I was shocked," says Annette. "It's something I'll never understand. Just the name of that show. I cringe."
Richard and Annette insist that they are "low-key" -- the same phrase the Henry Blochs embrace for self-description -- but they made a splash of their own last February, one that is still sending ripples through Kansas City society, when Annette chartered an entire ocean liner and its crew of 450, not to mention all manner of chefs and entertainers, to celebrate Richard's 60th birthday.
She invited 125 party goers, including Henry and Marion, for a four-day Bahamian cruise.
"Annette always gives a surprise party," says Richard, who was walked to the dock in a blindfold, "but this was a complete surprise!"
"He doesn't care what I spend," says Annette, "as long as he doesn't know about it. The only time I can really remember him doing something frivolous was when he bought me a jet once for Christmas."
Richard and Annette generally work as a pair, whether giving interviews, talking to medical groups or writing books about cancer -- they have authored two, and have donated copies to 11,000 libraries around the country. "When we do a speaking engagement," says Annette, "what happens is Dick starts talking and then I interrupt."
It is eight years, almost to the day, since Richard received his "terminal" diagnosis of inoperable lung cancer at age 52 -- beginning an 18-month odyssey through radiation treatments, surgery and chemotherapy that eventually resulted in his long-shot recovery.
"By God!" says Richard, when reminded of the date. "Honey! Eight years ago tomorrow! I never even thought about it!"
"Oh my God!" Annette cries, falling on her husband to plant a kiss on his lips. "He's my whole life," she says later.
Together, they founded the R.A. Bloch Cancer Management Center at the University of Missouri, Kansas City -- where Henry's name graces a business school endowment -- and the Cancer Hotline, a telephone network of cancer patients. They also developed the National Cancer Institute's "PDQ2" computer network, an information resource on the latest in cancer treatments, as well as the concept of the "second-opinion" panel, whereby a team of specialists meets to consider individual patients (22 panels nationwide now meet regularly). Richard and Annette also talk personally to some 1,000 patients a year, while Richard -- appointed by President Reagan -- serves on the National Cancer Advisory Board.
Their cancer programs -- designed to make available the latest information about different cancers to the greatest number of people -- operate on the same populist principles that formed the foundations of H&R Block.
"Everybody deserves the best," says Annette, "no matter what their income, no matter what their status."
"There are people whose goal it is to help a few people -- like a brilliant researcher I know who charges $35,000 a patient, and has a big staff to work on just 30 people a year. That's marvelous, and I don't find fault with it, but I'm going to help the person who can't afford not only the $35,000, but the $300."
"This is our mission," says Richard, "not to give false hope, but to show people that if they try, they've got a chance of beating this lousy disease."
Life since semiretirement has been crowded with travel and family -- Richard and Annette have three married daughters, one of whom lives in California and once enrolled in an est program -- with only the occasional look back. In 1982, Richard divested himself of his stock at $37 a share. In the years since, as H&R Block continued to grow, the stock split 2 for 1 and is now hovering in the mid-40s on the New York Stock Exchange. Still there are no regrets.
"Dick had worked so hard," says Annette, "that I felt he should enjoy life while he was still young. You can only make X number of dollars, and eat X number of meals. On the other hand, I lived through the beginning of the company with him, through the good parts, through the bad parts, the disappointments and excitement and everything. It was so much a part of our life that I felt such a void that he wasn't part of it anymore."
Sometime after the April 15 filing deadline, Richard and Annette, as usual, will leave Fort Lauderdale to take up summer residence in Kansas City. Every day from 5 in the morning till noon, Richard plans to be in his office at H&R Block headquarters to work on his various cancer projects.
Henry will be down the hall, laying plans for the inevitable tax year to come.