Helping Hungarian companies learn to operate in a market economy is a long way from what Macro Systems Inc. is used to doing, but the Silver Spring-based consulting and training firm is more than willing to try.

Macro is working with three large Hungarian firms to help them change over to a free enterprise system by improving their inefficient and sometimes brittle management-training, productivity and marketing systems.

Most of Macro's $28 million in annual revenue comes from the federal government. The company conducts program policy evaluations for federal health agencies and demographic health studies on developing nations for the Agency for International Development.

In 1989 Macro bought IRD Inc., a management consulting firm, from Westinghouse Electric Corp. IRD already had a relationship with a state-owned consulting firm in Hungary and was considering offering its services to Hungarian companies -- so it continued that work as a wholly owned subsidiary of Macro.

In November, Macro completed an evaluation of the obstacles and opportunities faced by the machinery division of Tungsram Co., the large Hungarian light-bulb manufacturer that General Electrics acquired in late 1989. Based on those findings, in April Macro will begin working with Tungsram executives to improve staffing and management training procedures, update the company's computer and communications systems and find marketing opportunities in the West.

Macro also is doing similar work with a division of Videoton Electronics Co., and last week contracted to work with a division of RABA, the largest truck and engine manufacturer in Hungary.

"There's a realization in Hungary that things have to change," said Marty Kotler, chairman of Macro. "Hungarians are highly literate, highly motivated, and they want to participate in a market economy. It's not just a question of {blue} jeans -- they need banks, trucking companies, a stock market, and they better do something about their environment."

Macro's main concern, he said, is ensuring that these companies learn to meet the needs of consumers. That requires focusing on quality and not quantity, a reversal of they way they ran under communist rule, Kotler said.

Eventually, Macro might consider acquiring an ownership stake in a Hungarian company, Kotler said, but the first step will be setting up an independent firm in Hungary, with Hungarian and American employees, to oversee the slow and smooth transitions that Macro is trying to foster.

Kotler said that like most companies working in the Eastern Bloc, Macro has had to deal with sometimes-daunting language and financial barriers. Its partnership with the Hungarian consulting firm has eased the language problem, he said, and so far getting paid hasn't been a problem -- the companies Macro works for all have access to hard currency. But the lack of capital could be an obstacle as the firm tries to increase its presence in Hungary.

Macro President Frank Quirk, who returned on Friday from a two week trip to Hungary, said the lack of capital is a critical economic problem in Hungary. "Almost every Hungarian company of any size is looking for at least some foreign participation ... they've all got requirements that exceed their capital."

Quirk said that for at least the next year, Macro will have the equivalent of one full-time employee in Hungary. While the company hasn't lost money on its Hungarian efforts, they haven't been a financial boon, either.

"I think we're making our normal margins," Quirk said. "I see this as being a reasonable money-maker, but it's the kind of work we like to do ... It feels good to part of this kind of change."