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BEN SULLIVAN Staff Reporter

They're the overachievers, the natural leaders, the most-likely-to-succeeds. And while their pursuits are varied from health care to entertainment to law they share one characteristic:

They are L.A. people to watch.

The Business Journal's list of 30 "Up and Comers" is a smorgasbord of talent, educational background and motivation. Most are in their 30s (though there are no age restrictions here), many have graduate degrees (though a few didn't even attend college), and almost all seem to enjoy what they're doing.

Dan McDermott, 33, co-head of DreamWorks SKG's television department, offers the ultimate testimonial: "I still can't believe that I get paid to do this."

Captivated as a boy by the intrigue and adventure of James Bond films, McDermott was determined to work in the industry. "I love the entertainment business," McDermott says.

From his first job as director of development at tiny Wilshire Corp. Production to a ground-floor vice president post with Fox Broadcasting, McDermott cut his teeth in television production during Fox's early network days.

That experience led to his involvement in developing "Beverly Hills 90210," "Melrose Place" and "The X-Files" for Fox.

Rick Wartzman, the 31-year-old editor of the Wall Street Journal's weekly California section, also knew early on what he wanted to do.

When his high school friends were sleeping in on Saturday mornings, Wartzman was answering phones and running copy at the Baltimore Evening Sun. His summers during his college years involved reporting internships around the country. Dogged work on both coasts for the Wall Street Journal earned Wartzman a bureau chief spot in Houston at age 30, from which his latest position emerged.

"Things have fallen into the right place," says Wartzman, now 31.

But success is not always so immediate. Barbara Lesser, 45, went through several career incarnations before her current success.

After working as a designer and shop owner in the apparel industry, Lesser and her husband took a year off, replacing their stressful pursuits with a trip to Africa, two months driving around the United States, and a search for "something interesting to do."

Lesser found that "something interesting" in producing organic clothing under the Wearable Integrity label but to poor results. Undaunted, she and her husband took a stab at producing up-scale women's fashion under the label "Barbara Lesser." That worked: The clothing line racked up $20 million in sales in 1996.

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