By - Bill Saporito

(FORTUNE Magazine) – The word ''embattled'' might have been created for David Roderick. Over the past 14 months he has weathered storms enough to fill a career, or end one. In February 1986, as USX was absorbing its $3-billion acquisition of Texas Oil & Gas, the price of oil began tumbling. The drop also took with it the profits of Marathon Oil, bought in 1982. Last summer USX became locked in a bitter strike in its steel division. This was followed by a takeover proposal from raider Carl Icahn. By most accounts the company won the strike. Roderick, 63, punctured Icahn's balloon by piling up $3 billion in debt due if the company changed hands. He used the money to restructure the company yet again, closing nearly 27% of its remaining steelmaking capacity. ''None of that is what you'd call pleasant,'' he says. But such moves have begun to win over security analysts. Raised in Pittsburgh and a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, Roderick got his first job with USX, then called U.S. Steel, as a statistician. His big break came in 1962 when he rescued a new manganese mine in Gabon from a precipitous fall in world prices by making it more efficient. He moved into the CEO's job in 1979. A former Marine sergeant sparing of the gung-ho, Roderick is a persuasive talker who subjects himself to quarterly, no-holds-barred press conferences. He comes across as a ''whatever it takes'' person.

This year Roderick may even get some time off at his country place in Ligonier. The steel division is back in the black, and oil prices are firming. Roderick's gaze remains fixed resolutely ahead. Says he: ''I'm looking forward to a more pleasant summer than '86.''