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H&R Block president, CEO and University of Dayton alumnus Jeff Jones addresses business commitment to community in webinar with students

By Dave Larsen

H&R Block President and CEO Jeff Jones ’90 calls himself an “insanely curious learner.” The University of Dayton alumnus’ professional resume reflects that intense desire for knowledge and growth. Previously, he served as the first president of Uber, and executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Target. He also held executive and leadership roles at the Coca-Cola Company, Gap and global advertising agency Leo Burnett.

“The key to staying relevant over many decades of working is being able to reinvent yourself, and the key to being able to reinvent yourself is being an incredible student all of the time,” Jones said during a September webinar with more than 80 students, faculty and staff from across the University. “Your learning journey in the University is just getting started. Every single day when I come to work, I’m trying to learn something new.”

Jones holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from the University. As a student he was the founder and first president of Phi Beta Chi, the co-ed honors fraternity for communication majors. During the second semester of his sophomore year he met his wife, alumna Margaret Jones ’90.

Originally, Jones was scheduled to visit campus during the 2020 fall semester as part of the School of Business Administration’s executive-in-residence program. His visit switched to a remote format because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2018, he spoke at SBA’s Business as a Calling symposium for first-year students.

“Jeff embodies what it means to be a Dayton Flyer,” said John Mittelstaedt, School of Business Administration dean. “What it means to ask the question every day when you come to work: ‘What is the purpose of my business? Why are we here today and how can we make the world a better place?’”

During his one-hour webinar, Jones discussed H&R Block’s community impact platform, “Make Every Block Better,” which seeks to address the issue of social isolation by building sustainable connections in neighborhoods and for small business owners. He also talked about the tax preparation company’s “Belonging@Block” diversity, inclusion and belonging council — inspired in part by a similar diversity, equity and inclusion initiative at his alma mater.

“I will tell you proudly, we watched the University of Dayton make public commitments and actions, and were inspired by how the University did it,” Jones said. “We have done the same thing in five areas around hiring practices, education, training, policies and community action. We have made our commitments and actions very public. We have committed in very specific ways to race and gender pay equity, and all the studies we have to do to ensure we are achieving the equity that we know we have to achieve.”

Jones cited the economist Milton Friedman, who in 1970 argued that businesses’ sole responsibility is to generate profit for shareholders. That idea dominated business for decades, but in 2019, the Business Roundtable released an updated statement of purpose that redefined the purpose of a corporation to promote “an economy that serves all Americans.” More than 180 CEOs signed the statement, committing to lead their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders — customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders.

Two years earlier, H&R Block came to the same understanding and committed to providing help and inspiring confidence in its clients and communities. That purpose was inspired in part by Jones’ meeting during his first week on the job with company co-founder and philanthropist Henry W. Bloch, who asked Jones to help the company matter again in the communities.

“To think that we can have an impact on something so important socially as social isolation is incredibly ambitious, but it is a problem we see in the world and something we are committed to having a positive impact on,” Jones said.

College of Arts and Sciences Dean Jason Pierce praised Jones for looking beyond the bottom line to advance a total valuation approach to the business-community nexus, based on creating sustainable connections at the neighborhood level.

“This is a really important message for those of us at a Catholic and Marianist university committed to the common good,” Pierce said.

We invite you to watch the recorded webinar here.

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