This article reports on a study of the operation of management control systems in a large nationalized jute mill of Bangladesh. The study seeks to describe how ‘control’ operated in practice and to explain why the systems of control worked in these ways. Investigations revealed a number of significant factors. First, the organization operated in both competitive and regulated environments; it had little authority over its operational activities and, head office and the sponsoring ministry were prominent in organizational planning and control. Second, the accounting system in the mill was mainly a response to external legitimacy (e.g. stewardship and tax matters). Third, although budgeting was perceived as part of the formal structure of control, it was not a dominant mode of control in the organization; the budgeting system was created to comply with head office and state requirements. Fourthly, the mill managers used a variety of social/informal control and mechanisms to cope with the complexity and uncertainty around the mill's operations. This study reinforces the conclusions of other research claiming that the wider social, economic, political and institutional contexts govern the ways management control operates in an organization.