WE sat down for a chat with West End Residential owners
Janis DeVito & Danielle Hilliker
Tell me about yourselves and how West End got started: Janis: I am a single mom of an 11 year old daughter and have 2 dogs, Molly & Maisie. I have lived in Morristown for 23 years and in the same house for 20 years. I am first generation to the US; my father is from Italy and my mother is from England so I have two very different cultures in my family. I have a brother but I was the first born and I think my father always wanted a boy so as a result I am an avid sports fan and know all the rules to most sports. Professionally, this is my third career. I was a software developer first--I am a computer science undergraduate and I have a Masters in Technology Management. I owned my own technology recruiting company for about 4 years then I got recruited out of my company to do the dot com craze. I thought that was going to be my last stop on the bus but then I worked on Wall Street during 9/11. I missed my train that day and then decided I needed to get out of the city. I had always had an interest in real estate so I sold two of my own houses then I obtained my real estate license and was hired by one of the larger companies as a manager apprentice. I spent 12 years with that organization before branching out on my own.
Danielle: I am expecting my first child, a boy, in June. I went to Berkeley for interior design and was in a leadership role there organizing events and participating in conventions for interior design throughout the country. Once I graduated I went to work immediately-- I graduated on a Friday and started work at an interior design firm on Monday. While I was there I worked closely with the design manager which sparked a passion for marketing. I eventually got let go from that position during the recession and moved to Morristown. Shortly after my roommate and I decided to take our savings and travel Europe. We spent a few months planning it, left in April and went for three months. We visited 13 countries and 40 cities and it was the most eye-opening, life changing experience for me. It was difficult when I got back because I realized we were living such a different lifestyle here compared to people around the world. They were enjoying their lives and everything didn't revolve around work. When I was an interior designer I was working 70 hours weeks and thought I loved my job but when I got back I realized I wasn't meant for that life. I went back to school for marketing and while I was doing that I met my husband in Morristown. We eventually decided to buy a house and at that time I was still trying to figure out what I really wanted to do and I wound up managing our whole home-buying deal. During that process I discovered that I loved the whole process and interacting with all of the different people involved. It clicked in my head that real estate combined people, marketing and design--everything I love doing. We closed on the house and within a month I had my real estate license. I called the office where Janis was co-owner and planned to meet with her business partner but I wound up meeting her instead. I loved her, her personality and everything she was going to teach me--we just clicked.
Janis: I was going to leave and Danielle wasn't going to stay if I wasn't going to be there so she started trying to convince me to go out on our own. I was thinking I was going to go and get another corporate job and be done.
Danielle: I could tell she was frustrated because the company at that time wasn't the right fit for her and her personality. She so passionate about real estate but wasn't passionate about that business.
Janis: She kept saying to me "I believe you would be great if you had something you could be proud of!" and I knew she was right.
Danielle: Janis brings so much to the table from all of her experiences and she has taught me that people do buy people, not the brand however, you do have to be proud of it. You have to believe in what you are selling, you have to believe in what you are a part of in order to go out and be excited about it and I could just tell she wasn't happy.
Janis: Once I made the decision to go for it I didn't tell anybody. I just texted Danielle "We've got a lot of work to do." We worked very hard for 30 days and at the end of that 30 days we had everything set up.
Danielle: We sat at her dining room table for 30 days straight and we just made it happen. We are a good balance. I tend to be the fearless one. My fearlessness comes from my parents because I've learned so much from watching them own their own businesses.
Janis: Danielle brings me light. I had that fearlessness when I was younger but you lose it as you get older and get jaded. The other part of this business is the technology piece. I have the real estate and the tech background and she brings the interior design and marketing background so all four pieces came together from two separate people and it's a really nice marriage. I coach her on the piece she doesn't have and she teaches me the piece I don't have--we trust each other and it's a nice way to do it. Everything we've done we go at it with an open heart and I think that makes it work. I believe it is so important to have a business emanate your energy.
Danielle: When we were trying to come up with a name she thought of West End and I realized that's the vibrant area of London and we both have ties to England. It all started snowballing--we discovered the initials were WE and the whole philosophy of the company came together organically.
Janis: The WE became the central focus because that's what it is. We are a WE, the office is a WE and we are a WE with the community. WE was all around us.
What sets West End apart?
Janis: It's the family environment, it's the collaboration, it's the brain, the heart, the quality of the work.
Danielle: I think the best way to explain it, the big philosophy, is the saying we have on the wall here: "Be kind, work hard, stay humble, smile often, stay loyal, be honest, travel when possible, never stop learning, be thankful and love always." We are a family here. We all work together, we all teach each other...WE are the team.