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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.

Then there's Jay Wintrob, who at age 39, has already enjoyed success in two separate careers. Wintrob had a promising legal career at prestigious O'Melveny and Myers when the position of personal assistant to Kaufman and Broad Chairman Eli Broad opened up.

"I was afraid if I passed it up I might not get another chance it's hard for attorneys to transition into other fields," Wintrob says. "I enjoyed practicing law, but I thought I might be good being on the other side of the table."

Just eight months after joining Kaufman and Broad since renamed SunAmerica Inc. Wintrob was made an officer in the company and now is president of SunAmerica Investments, which manages the parent company's $18 billion investment portfolio.

While Wintrob was willing to switch careers, Virginia Postrel has known since college what she wanted her job title to be: editor of Reason Magazine.

While studying at Princeton University, Postrel became interested in news analysis magazines, particularly Reason, which is in sync with her own libertarian views.

After graduation, she began as a reporter at the Wall Street Journal in New York and then moved to Boston to write for Inc. magazine. When her husband got a job at UCLA, she moved west with him. An associate editor position opened at Reason, which she landed, and Postrel was soon made the magazine's editor. She has held the position since 1989. "It was fate," she says.

A strong entrepreneurial spirit marks many of the 30 profiled. Martin Steele, 47, president of Aesthetic Frame & Art Services, started what is now a 100-employee company single-handedly in a West Hollywood garage. "It was my dream to be the best framer in Southern California," Steele says.

MCA Records President Jay Boberg, 38, quit college in his last quarter at UCLA to found IRS Records in the late 1970s. The label, which was later sold to a larger record company, discovered and promoted such notable bands as The Go-Go's, REM and Oingo Boingo.

Stuart Rubin, 35, co-founded Rubin-Pachulski Inc. with a childhood friend and has helped build the company into a real estate development firm with more than $150 million in properties around Los Angeles.

While the paths to early success are as varied as the individuals, a few common threads connect the up-and-comers. Topping them is strong support from family.

After graduating from UCLA, Ed Pope, the 34-year-old president and CEO of Matech Inc., started the cutting-edge biotech firm in his parents' Ventura County home. His mother still works as an administrative assistant in the company's Calabasas headquarters.

MCA's Boberg credits his family which he extends to include his close friends with keeping him grounded in a notoriously flighty industry.

"Keeping it in perspective is a big goal, and my family is a big portion of that," Boberg says. "Too many people who get into prominent positions (in this industry) are attracted by power or stature and lose track of the fact that they really should be there because they enjoy it, because it's fun."

Similarly, wanting to provide for one's family drives more than one of the up-and-comers.

Patrick McClenahan, 38, is senior vice president of production for Fox Sports Net. The father of two, including a 10-year old daughter with cerebral palsy, he credits his family with both the support and sense of responsibility that has driven him to succeed.

"Wanting to provide for your family is a great motivation," McClenahan says. "They're probably one of the key factors to the growth of my career."

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