New institutionalism increasingly informs work on comparative human resource management (HRM), downplaying power and how competing logics play out, and potentially providing an incomplete explanation of how and why ‘HRM’ and associated practices vary in different national contexts. We examine HRM in Pakistan’s banking industry and assess how managers’ espoused views of HRM practices reflect prevailing ones in dominant HRM models, and how they differ from early-career professionals’ perceptions of these practices. The cultural script of ‘seth’ (a neo-feudalist construction of authority) influences managers’ implementation of HRM policies and competes with the espoused HRM logic. We argue that managers will pursue a ‘seth’ logic when managing employees, as it reproduces existing power differentials within companies. By doing so, they render HRM unrecognizable from dominant models. Indeed, by using the term ‘HRM’, much of the existing, new institutionalism-influenced literature rationalizes a particular view of organizations and management that is inappropriate and analytically misleading in emerging economies.