In 1976, Tom Bloch joined H&R Block, the world's largest tax services provider, where his father was CEO. In 1981, after introducing automation to the company's office network, he was elected President of the Tax Operations. Later, he oversaw the company's innovative practice of filing tax returns electronically to the IRS, which revolutionized the industry. Bloch was promoted to President of the corporation in 1989 and CEO in 1992. His second career began in 1995 as a middle school math teacher at St. Francis Xavier, an inner city parochial school. Five years later, he co-founded the University Academy, a public charter school in Kansas City. Bloch continues to teach 7th and 8th grade math at the urban college prep school he helped design and launch. He is also President of the school's board. The Academy has grown from 200 students in grades seven through nine in its first year to over 1,000 students in kindergarten through grade twelve. The school moved into a new, $40 million facility in 2005, and it became the first school in Missouri to receive a ten-year extension of its charter. Over the last five years, all but two graduates of the Academy have gone on to attend college, an almost unheard-of success rate for an urban school. Bloch is the author of Stand for the Best, a memoir about his journey from CEO to inner city teacher and school founder. He graduated cum laude in 1976 from Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California.
Tom Bloch: The bottom line is that I was all-consumed by my previous job, which was CEO of H&R Block, a company that was founded by my father, Henry Bloch, and his brother Richard. And I enjoyed a 19-year career with the company, but it was about at the time that I achieved my ultimate goal, which was to succeed my dad as CEO, that I began to think that something was missing, and I had 2 young kids at that time and it was not uncommon for me to sit at the dinner table and my wife would kick me under the table and say, “Jason just asked you a question and you didn’t hear him.” So I was totally consumed by my job at H&R Block, so I finally decided that if I was going to truly be happy, I would need to pursue a different kind of personal fulfillment, one that was not financially related and one where the focus was not on me. And so my thoughts began to turn to urban education.
For several months, I debated back and forth. I think everybody I knew thought I had the world by the tail. I’m having a wonderful, lucrative position at a great company, wonderful people, and a company that was founded by my father. And so it was a very difficult decision to make, and having been there for 19 years and having never thought about any career outside of the tax preparation business for my entire life, it was agonizing. And I would often wake my wife at 2:00 in the morning, which she never appreciated, to talk about this, and finally, I made the decision to move on. And I thought about urban education for a couple of reasons. I thought then as I do today that urban education lies at the heart of our nation’s most urgent problem.
And I had two prior teaching experiences, neither of which was in urban education. But when I was in college, my French professor offered me the opportunity to teach French at the elementary school in Claremont, California, and he told me I wouldn’t be paid but I could receive course credit for it. And so I did that, and I really enjoyed the experience. Now, my students didn’t quite take me seriously. They saw me more as a 20-year-old college student than a real teacher, and I think that was particularly evident when they called me ‘Mr. Blockhead.’ But, and then about 30 years later, I taught taxes at H&R Block, and also a very satisfying experience, and none of my students then called me ‘Mr. Blockhead.’ But… so I thought teaching would be a wonderful pursuit.
Recorded on: October 13, 2008