30 In Their Thirties: Michelle Rafalski, Co-owner, Managing Partner, Gleba & Associates, Troy

After starting her career in commercial real estate, Michelle Rafalski joined Gleba & Associates, the financial planning firm her mother, Jill Gleba, founded in 1985. “I would call it very tedious,” she says of the business. “There’s a lot of nitpicky, need-to-know-this-specific-rule, law, (or) number.”
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Michelle Rafalski // Photo by Trever Long

After starting her career in commercial real estate, Michelle Rafalski joined Gleba & Associates, the financial planning firm her mother, Jill Gleba, founded in 1985. “I would call it very tedious,” she says of the business. “There’s a lot of nitpicky, need-to-know-this-specific-rule, law, (or) number.”

For Rafalski, though, the testing and certifications were a natural step — plus, she grew up around the office. “I joke that (the firm is) baby No. 1, I’m baby No. 2, and my brother is baby No. 3,” she says. She became managing partner in 2022, allowing her mother to pull back a bit and reduce her role.

Now things have come full circle. Rafalski just delivered her own first child, a girl, and she turned over business matters during her maternity leave to co-owner Moiz Kharodawala, the banking, mortgage, and taxation expert who joined the firm in 2013.

Together, they’re slowly buying out Gleba. The seamless interaction and family-friendly atmosphere are by design, Rafalski explains. “It was set up that way for our employees’ sake, because work-life balance is really important, and for our clients’ sake.”

Following graduation from the University of Tennessee, Rafalski came back to metro Detroit. She spent eight years as a real estate associate at Marcus & Millichap before her mother finally succeeded at coaxing her into the family firm.

Enjoying her management role, Rafalski says the best part of a recent day was attending two networking events — a vital part of business strategy. “There are days when I just feel like a pregnant person, and I felt like I was a business owner again that day.”

She fielded the question of whether all the tests and certifications are a useful barrier of entry in financial planning by saying that compared to real estate, the licensing is “10 times worse.” She adds that she uses “maybe 10 percent” of it, “but I understand the hurdle that needs to exist to get into this business. It’s appropriate when you think about what we’re handling all day.”

While the most basic issues for clients are about individual retirement, a business sale, or a succession, the approach remains pretty basic, too. “It sounds so cheesy, but what do you want to do?” The adviser’s job is to help figure out how to get there.

When the sale of a business is involved, things can get tricky. “It’s your baby, you built this thing for however many years, and when it’s not worth as much as you think, that can be heartbreaking. But you can set up your business so that you’re saving yearly for retirement and not just counting on that big chunk when you sell it to someone else.”

From first balking at becoming a financial planner, she says she finds enjoyment in running the firm’s operations and handling the marketing process as well as tempering clients’ emotions and building relationships. They’re skills, she notes, that she inherited from her mother.