"I wanted a particular sales job in a store, but then found out it had closed down," says Mak, a father of two children. "Luckily someone told me a secondary school was hiring English teachers and the pay was good. So I applied and got the job."
He started teaching on a monthly salary of HK$4,200 in 1986. "Graduates from the University of Kong Kong and Chinese University were on HK$4,500, so I wasn't doing badly," says Mak, who had a diploma in sociology at Baptist University.
He immediately realised that - quite by chance - he had found his true vocation; he enjoyed interacting with students and helping them to improve. The school's management also recognised his talents and soon placed him in charge of many extra-curricular activities.
"As educators, we have to spend a lot of time with students and understand their lives. Being able to relate to them through what we do is crucial. Students can sense it."
Mak also recognised he had to help himself - by improving his qualifications to reach his potential as a teacher. Later he qualified as a teacher and school administrator; in 2005, he finished his doctorate at Britain's University of Leicester.
"Not every student can enter university immediately," Mak says. "It's taken me a long time to get to where I want to be. Life is not always smooth, but you should remember never to look down on yourself."
He remembers struggling at school. "I didn't do well in my A-levels; I took it four times," he says. "My family wasn't rich; Dad was a labourer and Mum a cleaner. When Dad lost his job, Mum had to find more work, so she collected rubbish. I remember, aged 16, going out with her at midnight, worrying that I might bump into classmates."
These experiences helped mould him - and change his life. "I learned to appreciate my parents and realised we should never classify jobs as having a 'high or low' status. The tough times also taught me how to teach my students," he says.
Three years ago, when he came to CMA, a school serving more than 800 children from working-class backgrounds, he made it his goal to get to know every student in a year.
"As principal, I don't have classes, so I thought, 'How can I get to know my students?' So I invited them to have lunch with me."
Lunches with groups of students take place in Mak's office every day, except when he has meetings.
"Sometimes we discuss the news. But students can ask anything and I will answer. I also ask questions. I want them to know I'm not a saint; I've gone through bad times in life."
The luncheons have been extended to include other guests, including government officials and politicians. "Students enjoy the chance to meet and eat with our special guests," Mak says.
He keeps the school open late in the evening so students have a good place to stay and study. "I know that not all students have necessarily had strong family support," he says. "So they may not have a good starting point in life, or know what to do.
"What I want most for them is that they develop positive attitudes about life. When you are positive, you can face and also take on any difficulty that life brings."