04/14/2011 03:12 am ET Updated Jun 13, 2011

Factory Fire Delivers New Generation For Dornbracht

They say there are two types of people: those who can make the best of bad situations and those who fold under pressure. The same applies to companies. Dornbracht, a third-generation family-owned producer of high-end bathroom and kitchen fittings, was put to the test when a fire destroyed their production facility causing $160 million dollars and bringing all production to an utter halt. Dornbracht took this as an opportunity not just to re-build, but to develop a truly cutting-edge production center that would elevate production capacity and flexibility to unprecedented levels.


Their "fractal factory" has the potential to redefine the way many other industries operate. It's reorganizing the hierarchical, rigid corporate structure into modules that are self-sufficient, both in terms of their structure and their operation. Within these modules, all the employees in a business segment from development through to manufacturing and sales, work together to a large extent independently of the rest of the company. The result is a more efficient system with constant communication.

But they owe their upswing to more than just to the quality of the new facilities. Dornbracht has consistently struck a balance between hand-crafted and hi-tech, basing its chosen methods on the quality of the output. They were the first fittings manufacturer to employ the use of robots for their production process, realizing that a human arm wasn't capable of certain parts of the production process due to the weight of the product, the necessary movements of it, and so forth.

Andreas Dornbracht, the company's CEO, explained "If it wasn't for the Dornbracht brand, we wouldn't be here today." Clients (from individuals to large hotels) waited for months for products, or purchased any available inventory from distributors throughout the world rather than purchasing products from competitors. A hotel in Moscow, scheduled to open 10 months after the fire, had specified 60 Dornbracht freestanding tub fillers. Still wanting to stay with the Dornbracht brand, the hotel opened on-time with a (stunning) hodgepodge of fixtures - the result of a lot of support from customers, sharing inventory and shipping available materials wherever needed.

It's been an intensely personal experience for the Dornbracht family. Andreas Dornbracht lives only 3km from the factory in his German hometown Iserlohn, and was literally thrown from bed when the chemical plant exploded. He could see the 100 m high flames from his balcony. Statistics show that only 23% of companies that sustain this degree of damage will ever regain the same status and market share within their industry. But that's not been a deterrent.

Beyond fighting damages, Dornbracht was tasked with fighting insurance. Dornbracht's insurance company had formed a consortium with three others, one of which is a subsidiary of the all-to-familiar AIG. The AIG subsidiary was the only one of these four companies to deny the insurance claim, but following a court case and appeal, Dornbracht has officially won the case!

Among the damages sustained was 2 million dollars in precious metals. "We joke that there's a cloud of gold over Iserlohn, and years from now, there will be a gold rush when it all settles."


Jacob Slevin is the CEO of and the Publisher of 3rings.