Welch, 67, said he will spend the rest of the year helping dealers work through the pandemic and assisting the board's search for his successor.
"It's time to start smelling the roses," he told Automotive News.
The association, based in Tysons, Va., has hired international search firm Spencer Stuart, as it did before hiring Welch. NADA's director-led search committee will include previous chairmen, potential future leaders and executives from other automobile trade associations, Welch said.
Welch expects candidate recommendations to be sent to the board of directors by early fall.
The Detroit native and former head of the California New Car Dealers Association - the largest state-level dealer group - leaves behind a skill set that will be hard to rival, NADA Chairman Rhett Ricart said.
"He's one in a million," Ricart said. "He has this ability to analyze and create strategies that work."
Under Welch's leadership, NADA streamlined its organization and modernized its approach by shedding cumbersome operations and focusing on what its 16,000-plus members deemed core to its mission on the legislative, regulatory and advocacy fronts.
Major changes early on under Welch included bulking up the public-affairs department, selling its NADA Used Car Guide to J.D. Power and exiting the retirement-planning business. The effort to slim down operations has reduced its staff from more than 350 to fewer than 180 employees today.
"There was a lot of dead weight that needed to be pruned out from the top to bottom," Welch said.
As soon as Welch started, he was in a legislative and regulatory battle, said David Westcott, the 2013 NADA chairman. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a notice in 2013 that sought to eliminate dealer discounts on auto loans.
"That sort of threw the financial auto-loan industry into chaos," said Westcott.
Welch and NADA argued that the guidance was flawed, and in 2018, Congress revoked it. It was "a war of attrition," Welch said.
NADA’s next CEO will also step into chaos — this time, it’s the uncertainty of the pandemic and the ensuring economic paralysis, as well as what recovery may look like.
With the challenges of a divided national government, the search committee is probably going to look for someone familiar with that environment, said Phil Brady, Welch’s predecessor, who was CEO of NADA from 2001 to 2012 and led the organization through crises from the 9/11 attacks through the global financial collapse.
He said Welch has a "real tenure to proud of."
Despite the complex challenges, Welch’s advice for his successor is simple: "Stay in shape and be proud," he said, noting the physical endurance needed for a position that requires extensive travel and many long days.
"Just do a great job while you’re there," he said. "Let the history books worry about how they’re going to remember you."