Oh dear Maya gods if you could only rain a nickle down on me everytime I saw the phrase - "I can do xxx in program yyy there must surely be a way to do the exact same thing in Maya, right?"
In all honesty I read your wuestion several times and it is not clear to me what you are asking.
1. I assume you have exported a model from max but you don't say in what format - obj, fbx, ...
2. You have imported it into maya? I am sure from reading your question.
My next statement will no doubt sound as strange to you as your description of max elements sounded to me.
Maya does have a way to group objects, you can also combine objects, you can also create named sets of objects and components, and you can create partitions consisting of a hierarchies of sets.
Maybe shoot some screen shots of what you are trying to do in max, explain how you are exporting your model, and show us the issue you are having in maya with some more screen shots.
"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Sir Isaac Newton, 1675