(Updates with Schindler, foundation statement)
By Tom Käckenhoff, Christoph Steitz, Arno Schuetze and Edward Taylor
ESSEN, Germany/FRANKFURT, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Thyssenkrupp has received bids from at least three major bidding groups for a majority stake in Thyssenkrupp's elevator business, four people familiar with the matter said.
Thyssenkrupp Elevator Technology (ET), which sources said could fetch as much as 17 billion euros ($18.7 billion), is the German group's most profitable asset and has been put on the block as the conglomerate needs cash for pensions, to cut debt and invest in its other divisions.
Bidders are pitching to buy a majority of ET, which would command a higher price because it includes a so-called control premium, the people said.
The bidders are also prepared to take a minority stake if it helps to win over key Thyssenkrupp stakeholders. Activist fund Cevian, which is Thyssenkrupp's second biggest shareholder, favours an outright sale, while labour representatives oppose this.
Finland's Kone, which has been interested in ET for some time, has submitted a bid and teamed up with private equity firm CVC to address potential antitrust concerns, the people said.
Private equity firms Blackstone, Carlyle and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board have also submitted a joint bid, these people said.
A third bid came from Advent, Cinven and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the sources said.
Japan's Hitachi, which had been the only other strategic suitor apart from Kone, has dropped out of the race, the people said.
All parties were not immediately available for comment or declined to comment.
Suitors are also prepared to make concessions on jobs and sites to persuade labour representatives at Thyssenkrupp, which control half of the group's 20-member supervisory board.
Top representatives at IG Metall, Germany's biggest union, last month said they would not approve a sale of ET unless potential buyers give far-reaching concessions to staff.
The Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach foundation, Thyssenkrupp's top shareholder, on Tuesday confirmed it was backing the group's management, which it said had to act fast and wisely in the particularly difficult environment.
Its head, Ursula Gather, has previously said it would be best if Thyssenkrupp kept as big a stake as possible in ET.
Schindler, the Swiss elevator and escalator group, isn't interested, according to board member Alfred Schindler in an interview with Finanz und Wirtschaft, adding a merger with ET would create problems "along the entire value chain". ($1 = 0.9074 euros) (Editing by Tom Sims, Jane Merriman and Jonathan Oatis)